I recently bought a copy of Anthony Grafton's Codex in Crisis for no reason other than the fact that the binding was hand-sewn and the colophon indicated that I was
holding copy number 285 out appeared to be a very limited run. I had little intention of actually reading the thing.
Codex expands on Grafton's recent-ish New Yorker essay on the advent of new archiving technologies and how they are re-shaping our notions of literacy and expression--it is a bracing piece and I recommend it to anyone who finds these matters the least bit interesting. At a basic level, it is a fitting essay for New York's fantastic Crumpled Press to republish, with most of the original copies long since recycled or buried under stacks of more recent, unread magazines. But there is something about the uniqueness of this object--the delicate stitching, the hand-stamped number conferring some kind of unique aura, the sturdy flyleaf paper--that speaks directly to the anxieties expressed in Grafton's piece.
And it got me thinking about the proliferation of "limited edition" goods available to us nowadays: artisinal foods, limited edition records, t-shirts and shoes, even campaign merchandise. As the brave Editors of Codex write in their Introduction: The web is hot. If the infinite back-alleys of the Internet define our condition, then why not acts which celebrate the "blissfully disconnected" (Crumpled Press, again) pleasures of old (and, in a way, less democratic?) technologies? Why not disruptive acts of scarcity, when so many other things spill forth with abundance and neglect?
Of course this is all just a lofty way of justifying purchasing habits, of buying the same sneaker in three different colorways. But for an industry like publishing--why not consider carving up the market in this way? As bands like the Vivian Girls and Wavves have demonstrated, limiting access can be an effective way of managing/accelerating demand at the indie/grassroots level. There has to be a way this logic can be applied to the book trade.