'Superbook' publishers grow fat as Blumenthal becomes latest star to release a £1,000 tome

By Jerome Taylor
Saturday 22 March 2008 01:00

Anyone tucking into Heston Blumenthal's famous snail porridge or pommery grain mustard ice cream at his Fat Duck restaurant can expect to spend serious cash. But buying the latest edition of his cookbook and having a go yourself will put an even more serious dent in your wallet.

For £1,000, you get a luxury leather-bound tome produced in association with the royal jeweller Asprey which includes two surprise "silver gifts".

Blumenthal is the latest celebrity to launch an elaborate, high-end publication carrying a price tag far beyond the reach of the average earner.

Despite the credit crunch, an entire industry has sprung up to cater to an increasing number of customers willing to spend thousands of pounds on luxury books from the shelves of the world's most exclusive shops.

Another example is The New York Book – a 16kg silk-bound volume depicting life in the city, which is sold only at Harrods in London or Barney's in Manhattan. Encased in a crystalline tower case, the limited edition, 700-page book costs £7,600. It is the third project by the publisher Gloria, which has already released a 12kg epic about the footballer Pelé and another about the gold-encrusted lives of superyacht owners. Gloria's customers, apart from yacht owners themselves, include professional footballers, City bankers and wealthy Arab collectors.

Many "superbooks" target wealthy sports enthusiasts – the kind who can afford a corporate box at a cup final. A luxury biography of the boxing legend Muhammad Ali, published last year by Taschen, featured four silver gelatine prints by the photographer Howard L Bingham, signed by Ali himself, and cost £5,000.

Some of the most expensive books are produced by Kraken Opus, which once specialised in sports titles but has branched out into luxury volumes. Its latest offering is a series of books produced with Vivienne Westwood, and it has just signed a deal with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to make a book about the Oscars.

Karl Fowler, the chief executive of Kraken Opus, said the key to turning a book into a lucrative investment opportunity was to keep the content exclusive.

"We produced a book with Formula 1 recently and the most exclusive edition, which was limited to just 100 books and costs £20,000, contained the signatures of all 19 F1 champions alive today," he said. "That had never been done before and the first 15 editions were immediately snapped up by a hedge fund.

"We are now paid by that hedge fund to store those books in humidified storage. They don't even want them delivered."

He is unconcerned about the credit crunch, saying many wealthy people now choose to put their money into so-called "passion investments" because they are safer than the stock market.

Expensive editions

*The New York Book

16kg silk-bound volume published by Gloria Books on the history, architecture and cultural life of the financial hub of New York. Most expensive edition costs £7,600, cheapest £1,200.


A 12kg tome on the Brazilian footballer was released in 2006. The 150 copies, which cost £4,000 and are signed by all surviving members of the 1970 World Cup-winning team, sold out in days. Copies were selling last year for £10,000.

*Manchester United Opus

The leather-bound book sold initially for £3,000 each. Last year, the 777th copy of the half-metre-squared book, signed by the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, sold for £1.6m at a charity auction.

*Dancing with the Bear – Roger Shashoua, 'Oligarch Edition'

Last year, the British entrepreneur offered a diamond-encrusted version of his book – a tale of how he made a fortune in post-Soviet Russia – for £3m.

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