Monday, 19 March 2012

Part Works (and part doesn't...)

       I've been thinking a lot about part works since yesterday's posting. Bookish types tend to get a bit sniffy about part works (shades of Phone for the fish knives, Norman). Somehow, they aren't considered to be 'proper' books. They do, however, have a long and quite distinguished history. In the early days of printing, printers would offset their costs by issuing parts of books as they were printed, prior to binding and selling the whole volume. This ensured an income for the printer, and allowed people who may not have been able to afford the bound copy to acquire the book. During the 19th Century, novels were often issued in weekly or monthly parts. Charles Dickens issued many of his novels this way, and the Sherlock Holmes stories appeared first in The Strand magazine. In the 20th Century, dictionaries and encyclopedias were issued in installments. Then, lots of different topics began to issued in part work form. Strangely, for a product that people seemingly look down on, part works have, after TV listing, women's weekly and women's monthly magazines, the fourth largest sales in the UK market.

Part works appeal to many people as they break the cost up into manageable increments. As a boy, I simply couldn't afford to buy large, hard-backed books. But, as in this first example, I could afford a few pence each week. Orbis first published World of Wildlife from 1971, at something like 20p per issue. Over 165 issues, it built into an eleven volume set - something I could only have dreamed of buying outright.

On the wildlife theme, I also have a set of The Living Countryside - 180 issues on the British flora and fauna, which were about 60p each. From the mid-seventies, I think. They were reissued in the mid-eighties.

In about 1980, I built up a set of The Unexplained magazines. 157 issues, at 50p a pop, it covered all sorts of woo subjects.

Something dreadful must have happened between then and 1987, as the next set, Times Past, were a hefty £1.50 each. 98 regular issues, plus two specials. They covered antiques and collectables, under a weekly theme (The Victorian Parlour, The Edwardian Breakfast Room, and so on).

From 1986 to 1988, at what I think was a very reasonable £3.95, I built up a set of Great Writers books. These were slightly different from the usual part work, in that in addition to the 55 magazines (including three specials), a volume selected from the oeuvre of the weekly author was also included.  These were replica reprints of period copies, with hard covers, faux leather bindings, and an illustration on the front. 

Building a library of related works was behind this final set - 24 CDs and magazines on Discovering Opera, from 1991, at £4.99 each. I don't think I would have gone out and bought this selection of CDs, but the accompanying magazine, with commentary and notes, makes perfect sense. A good introduction to an esoteric sphere.

Recently, part works have taken a strange twist. Instead of build a collection, the current trend is to build an item, in weekly parts. The item in question may be an aeroplane, a warship or a car. Rightly, in my opinion, is the view that these are over-priced gee-gaws. If you price up the total cost of the weekly £5.99s, or what ever the price is, the finished model will have cost you several hundred pounds. Hardly a bargain anymore.

No comments:

Post a Comment