Bookish History

What’s Up With Special Edition Hardcovers?

Mara Franzen

Staff Writer

Mara (They/Them) has accidentally on purpose made their entire life about books and stories. Mara graduated with a B.A in creative writing and theatre and is halfway through an MFA in Creative writing. In addition to writing for Book Riot, Mara also has written for The Independent Book Review, Wargamer, and The Other Half, to name a few. They also work as a fiction editor with The Minison Project. Nearly all of their published articles can be found here.

If you are plugged into the bookish scene, you have probably noticed that special edition hardcovers are everywhere. From anniversary rereleases, to book box editions, to books that just got a lot of hype. With all of these special editions out there, it raises a lot of questions! Is this the new trend? Are these books actually collectible? What even is the point of all these editions? Let’s get into it.

The recent release of Babel brought these questions into sharp focus for me. By my count, there are at least eight different editions of this book, and probably more that I’m missing. Now don’t get me wrong, I myself have two hardcover editions of Babel, so I get it! I want even more copies because they are all so beautiful. But why are there so many? And why this book in particular?

There’s enough to cover about special editions to cover about 500 essays and think pieces, so I am going to focus on recently published books getting special editions before they are even published, as is the case with Babel, or getting special editions a few years post publishing.

Trending or Trade-able?

We know that social media impacts all sorts of trends, so it’s not a leap to suggest that part of this surge of special editions is due to social media. With platforms like Instagram and TikTok, it’s easier to make beautiful posts if the books you’re featuring are themselves beautiful. Special editions usually include sprayed edges and foiling, which makes the book just look stunning.

When books are talked about well before they are published, as was the case with Babel, it’s an easy call to pre-make special editions to sell on top of the standard edition. More editions means more people buying. So it stands to reason that a hyped-up book is going to get a lot of editions.

On top of that, because of social media, it’s easy to see what the edition looks like in other countries. I got the U.S. edition and the Waterstones (UK) edition of Babel because I loved them both so much. Before social media, it was much harder to see what the book looked like in other parts of the world. Now it’s easy.

But with all of these editions out there, are they just for looking pretty, or will they accumulate interest over time and become a collectable?

As of now, it’s hard to say. This is such a new phenomena that it’s hard to predict if these new special editions will accrue value overtime. But don’t worry, I just put a note in my calendar to check the prices of Babel special editions in ten years exactly from writing this. I’ll check back then.

Old Books, New Treatment

collector's edition of Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston, showing the text of the title in red, white, and blue against a light blue background

Of course not all books are bestsellers before they are released (if at all); some gain bestseller status over time, as was the case with Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston. Originally published in 2019, a collector’s edition was released in October of 2022. Usually a book that gained popularity might get a special edition on a ten year anniversary, if that. So why the sudden change?

One idea is that McQuiston’s first young adult book I Kissed Shara Wheeler came out that same year, so it was a way to market both books. Another theory is that in July of that year the movie was announced. What better way to build momentum for the upcoming movie than to release a collector’s edition? It makes total sense! Keep building excitement for McQuiston’s other projects, and remind people why they love the book. Now everyone is talking about it again.

A good rule of thumb in this case is to expect a big announcement after a special edition of your favorite book is released, or to expect a special edition coming after a big announcement. Trust me, once you see the pattern, you’ll start seeing it everywhere.

Another example of this is with the YA fantasy book Shadow and Bone. Originally published in 2012, the collector’s edition didn’t come out until 2020. Part of this is due to the fact that the book was turned into a Netflix TV show, but another factor that was the driving force behind the book and show was its popularity on social media, namely TikTok. For a time, you couldn’t spend ten minutes on BookTok without seeing someone talking about the Grishaverse. The whole series became a massive topic of conversation, and soon the book was back in demand. Other viral BookTok titles that have had or will have special hardcovers released after their paperback release include Colleen Hoover’s It Ends With Us and Adam Silvera’s They Both Die at the End.

Another book that got a special edition released in 2020 was Braiding Sweetgrass, a nonfiction book originally published in 2013. It had once again gained public attention after the 2016 Standing Rock protests, and was all over the internet as an important book to read if you wanted to be an ally, and understand the threats to the land and people that were being protested.

Though each of these books are different genres and written for different audiences, they each regained popularity years after the paperback book was released. All because people were talking about them, getting excited about them, and encouraging others to pick these books up.

So, as much as we might complain about how social media is affecting the book world, there is a clear indication that a resurgence in interest for an older book can result in some truly stunning special editions. BookTok It gives you some hope that a book you loved years ago might just be the next thing to take the internet by storm. I know I’ve got a few I wouldn’t mind having collectors editions of!

So Many Boxes, So Little Time

Book subscription boxes are everywhere. If you aren’t familiar, the general idea is this: You get a unique hardcover version of a recent release, and some bookish goodies. These boxes come roughly once a month, and make special editions you can buy separately. In order to get your business these subscription services usually work really hard to make stunning editions. Like some truly breathtaking versions of your favorites.

So if you add collectors editions, international editions, special editions, and subscription box editions all up, well that’s a lot of books. And also a lot of money.

Will This Last?

So, with more and more books getting special editions before they even reach the age of five, is this trend going to last? I’d say signs point to yes. Just probably not as much as we are seeing now.

It’s easy to be tricked by social media into thinking everyone is buying multiple editions of their favorite books, but that likely isn’t the case for the average reader. I admit I have a growing collection of The Inheritance Cycle editions, but that’s not the case for most of my books.

You don’t need special editions to be a reader. Not being able to buy all the various editions doesn’t mean you don’t love the book. A book is meant to be read. If you are reading all those copies sure, get them. If you love a book or an author so much that you want a pretty edition to display, go for it. But don’t get tricked into thinking that without these you don’t actually love the book.

So go on, collect if you want to. Or don’t! The (very prettily packaged) choice is yours.