June 2010 | Rebecca Rego Barry

Birthday Book Treasure

Yesterday a birthday gift arrived, nearly two months late but well worth the wait. Two very thoughtful people (my in-laws) have given me the Oxford Companion to the Book, the two-volume reference published earlier this year by Oxford University Press (and reviewed in our spring issue by Jeremy Dibbell). Why the delay? My guess is Oxford underestimated the bibliophile market. My set was ordered in mid-April from a major online retailer that stipulated the book would ship within days, but the ship date kept changing and, eventually, the book was listed as unavailable. The publisher's website also categorized it as temporarily unavailable in early May. Around this time, a subscriber wrote in to FB&C to inquire about the Oxford Companion, asking why some online booksellers were now charging nearly double the original retail cost (he had seen our review and wondered about the disconnect between the price as printed and the current prices online). I did a bit of research for him, and it seemed likely that Oxford had sold its initial printing and was now scrambling to supply the demand; some booksellers saw an opportunity. The subscriber ended up ordering the book abroad for less than it could be found state-side. As for me, my in-laws were tired of waiting for the online retailer to fulfill the order it had promised to ship more than a month before, and they placed a second order directly with the publisher. Another month passed, and the publisher finally delivered. All's well that ends well? I'm thrilled to have a copy of this amazing book in my library, but surely there's a lesson (or two) here about publishing and bookselling.