So I joined the Science Fiction Book Club (SFBC). I honestly can't remember why I went to their site. I was eyeballing the price of buying a just-released fantasy novel (currently only available as a hardback or hardback-priced eBook; it's the only series I buy at release right now), and ended up checking them out. I usually buy used online, but I've got a number of current books I'd like to read, and their offerings mesh up very well. (Admittedly, if I had it to do over again, I'd swap Terry Brooks for the new Umberto Eco.)

As a quick search of the Internet reveals, SFBC printings are strange beasts. Their printing of the same book you'd buy elsewhere will be slightly smaller than what you'd find in Barnes and Noble (or your local, independent book store). The paper is slick, and feels somewhere between "Bible paper" and what you're used to at retail. For some reason, the SFBC versions have been deemed uncollectable, though I've no idea why. Seems rarity and condition would be the only characteristics that matter, but there are a number of guides online to help identify these "worthless" SFBC duplicates.

And they are different books, I think, though their ISBNs match! Here are the reported dimensions for the same book from the SFBC listing and Amazon.

Same number of pages, so I'm guessing it's just scaled down and printed on thinner paper (though thickness is only listed on Amazon's, I know the pages are pretty thin). Seems to be smaller and lighter, certainly, which has obvious advantages for items mailed directly to their consumers.

They also are well-known for "omnibus editions", where they package two or more books from a series that's usually long since gone to paperback, making some hardback omnibus collections almost as cheap as buying the separate books used from Amazon or or what-have-you. I've got a SFBC Asimov omnibus I bought used from Amazon to save on postage over buying the three books separately, and it's a decent reading copy.

When it comes to SFBC entering the publishing game, it's difficult to guess the how and why. Is it really cheaper for the SFBC to pay for the right to print the books and ship rather than just drop ship or take ownership of the ones printed by the conventional publisher? Is there a sweet spot for book size that makes postage that much cheaper? And if it is cheaper to print the books this way, why doesn't Barnes and Noble (or, better yet, Wal-Mart with paperbacks) make a similar deal? B&N does print out of copyright classics; why not first run books? Or if it is printing plus postage, wouldn't Amazon print its own books? Certainly they have a better bargaining position with publishers than the SFBC, right? Would the SFBC be able to pull this off today if it hadn't been around apparently since 1926 republishing books in fancy leather versions so that folks could have literary props to display in their house?

The deal the SFBC has reminds me a good deal of Amazon and B&N with eBooks. There, both places buy the rights to "print" in formats that don't look much of anything like the hardbacks. I know my phone makes books look just a touch different from what I normally read. SFBC just takes the eBook paradigm and applies it to, um, paper.

In any event, since it's so danged hard to Google up anything about the SFBC (other than what I've already summarized and the random stuff they have on their YouTube channel), I figure I'll post about my experiences here. I'll put in a fancy topic tag of SFBC so you can see it all in one place. Maybe someone like me will Google it up and figure out all the things I wish I could've found out but couldn't before signing up.

So far, the most important lesson is that, though it's not listed on their site anywhere that I can find, the danged books take up to 4 weeks to arrive after they're ordered (but see update, below), something I only found out after emailing customer service (which is surprisingly quick to reply; great job there). I've quickly gone from ordering four, maybe five books I really want to read (two of the five from my intro offer were on my next-to-read list, and two more I wanted to read soon), to having the books I want most to read held hostage by the mail and wondering what I could read for the next few weeks while I'm waiting. /sigh I mean, I knew that by the time I was done buying my required books that I'd've likely overpaid by $10-15 over getting the 5 intro books plus 4 required purchases used, but to compound that with the slow boat delivery is painful.

UPDATE: Of course two days after I start complaining, BAM, the books are at my door. I'm surprised they would tell me I'm going to have to wait up to 3 weeks if it's going to pop up that quickly. So exactly a week after I order, here they are. Very nice.

Still, I haven't been this excited about getting books, strangely, for quite some time. Probably because I'm "treating" myself to newly released books instead of my normal frugal used. That's how they get ya!

Next time: How much did that introductory offer "save" me, really?

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