'Complete Calvin and Hobbes' to Likely Sell Out Before Holiday Rush

By Max Chafkin
From The Book Standard, October 14, 2005

What could have been one of the hottest -- and bestselling -- books of the holiday season, Bill Watterson's The Complete Calvin and Hobbes, may instead fall victim to a decision that appears to have been a miscalculation by the book's publisher, Andrews McMeel. The gift-book specialist has been unable to fill the pre-orders of many booksellers for the three-volume, $150 set, and predicts the book will sell out before the Christmas buying season.

Since the book's release on Oct. 4, fans of Watterson's syndicated strip have been snapping up the new collection at a furious pace, propelling it to No. 2 on The Book Standard's Humor Chart and No. 32 on the Overall Chart, for the week ending Oct. 9. The collection sold 15,000 copies in its first full week of sales, making it the most expensive book ever to crack any of The Book Standard's bestseller charts. The demand was anticipated by many retailers, who placed large pre-orders in anticipation of its being a hot seller during the holiday season.

Powell's Books, the Oregon-based clicks-and-mortar bookseller, placed an initial order of 1,000 copies, but has received only 250, said Meredith Schrieber, manager of the chain's flagship store in Portland. As result of the shortfall, Powell's has decided to remove the book from its holiday catalogue. "We're pretty upset with Andrews McMeel," she said, adding that the retailer had anticipated strong sales after its success with The Complete New Yorker, an expensive, large-format gift book published by Random House. "We were excited because we did so well with the New Yorker, and we were looking forward to doing that with this book," she said. "The story is that they're not very good at doing a book like this."

McMeel says the shortfall was not the result of a mistake, but rather the publisher's desire to create a collectible "limited edition." Rebecca Murray-Schuler, director of publicity, said that calculations for the print run were based on the performance of The Complete Far Side, which sold well with an initial run of 150,000. "Given the labor intensity of this project, we were not in the position where we could go back to press at a moment's notice," she said. "Powell's situation is not unique. We are hearing from many accounts that expect to be sold out well before the traditional holiday shopping rush begins."

Though booksellers that placed pre-orders have discounted the book by as much as 30%, Watterson's collection is selling well even in stores that have not been able to offer price cuts. Derek Holland, a store manager at The Tattered Cover, a small independent chain of bookstores in Denver, said that his customers have not been deterred by the book's high price. "I can't say that I'm surprised," said Holland, citing the successes of the New Yorker compendium and the Far Side collection. "Given the popularity [of the Watterson strip], it makes sense," he said.

Sustained interest in the book stems a great deal from the famously reclusive Watterson's having kept a tight rein on the rights to his characters. Since Dec. 31, 1995, when he retired the strip, Watterson's bestselling collections, such as The Indispensable Calvin and Hobbes, have been the only outlet for fans anxious to read (and re-read) the adventures of the precocious Calvin and his sage stuffed tiger.