Ah, 'Victorian Teaspoons.' I Don't Suppose I Could Borrow It?

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Should your coffee table book cost more than your coffee table?

Sure, you can get a hardcover copy of Peter Beard’s scrapbook for $70, but limited editions can cost many multiples of that, and publishers say prices are rising.

"It’s because we’re all selling fewer and fewer and we’re jacking up the prices,” says Wes Del Val, the associate publisher of PowerHouse Books. “I don’t think that’s a great tactic, but you’ve seen, in the past five years, these routine $125, $150 books.” They are used mostly for decoration, “so many people display them and never look at them,” he says. “They’re status symbols, cheap ways to add a bit of flourish.”

Charles Miers, the publisher of Rizzoli New York, cites a backlash against technology, saying these big, beautiful books are "valued as collectibles now, partly as a subliminal reaction to things digital." He thinks the vogue for expensive books also has a lot to do with Vogue. “The fashion world has embraced the book as a fashionable object in the last 10 years,” he says, “the same way that the architecture world embraced it 30 years ago.”

These prices aren’t just a test of the limits of demand. Content costs money. "It depends on how precious the material in the book is," says Del Val. "Is it stuff that's never been seen before? Is the subject matter in the same realm as fine art and design?” If so, the book will cost more.

Miers says you get what you pay for. "I think that what we do represents a permanence," he says. "I don't want to sound too romantic about it, but there's a sort of beauty in the object that the digital experience can't duplicate."

You could download the Codex Seraphinianus to your Kindle and plunk it on your coffee table.

But that would be silly.

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