Saturday, August 18, 2018

Amazon Slashes

Let me get a quick headcount: Has anyone been clamoring for a monumental New Yorker cartoon collection organized by topic? The Cartoon Bank published enough single-subject collections to exhaust the general demand for them years ago. But now a single vast collection organized into more than 250 cartoon tropes is on the near horizon.

The New Yorker Encyclopedia of Cartoons is to be published this fall as a two-volume, hardcover, slipcased edition priced at an easy-to-remember $100. With nearly 3,000 cartoons, that comes out to about 3 1/3 cents per cartoon. In contrast, the current August 20, 2018 issue of the New Yorker contains a piddling nine cartoons and costs $8.99. I don't need my calculator to tell you that's a buck a cartoon, with the articles and ads thrown in gratis. So even at full price, one can make the case that the big new book is a good deal for New Yorker cartoon fans. (Spoiler alert: I'm a New Yorker cartoon fan.) For those who insist on spending more, there will also be an $800 deluxe limited edition which includes signed and numbered prints by Bob Mankoff (the book's editor and the New Yorker's former cartoon editor), Bruce Eric Kaplan, and Roz Chast. It will have an edition size of 1000. That comes to about 3 1/3 cents per cartoon plus $233 per signed print. It also comes out to a projected $800,000 in sales for the deluxe edition alone.

"...from 1924 to the present." I'd pay good money to see those 1924 cartoons!
(The New Yorker's first issue was published on February 21, 1925.)
The New Yorker Encyclopedia of Cartoons deluxe edition
Retrieved August 17, 2018

It's a beautiful set, to be sure, with seemingly high production values of the sort we New Yorker acolytes haven't been treated to in a while. New Yorker cartoon collections used to be joyous affairs, published as sturdy hardcovers with well-designed, often gorgeous dust jackets meant to be treasured in personal libraries for a lifetime. Of late, the New Yorker has been systematically cheapening the cartoon collections it publishes, putting out annual collections and even the milestone 90th anniversary collection as a series of "bookazines." For those who don't know, bookazines are apparently printed on the same presses which publish magazines, but they pretend to be books even as they are sold on magazine racks. They look like throwaways and lack the substantive heft of a book. Then last year no annual collection was published, period.

So, having engineered its own drought of meaningful cartoon collections, the New Yorker is now at long last trying to produce something that will look impressive on a bookshelf. At this point, The New Yorker Encyclopedia of Cartoons is the only game in town. But who exactly is it meant for?

The book's title is pretentious, of course, even for Mr. Mankoff. Maurice Horn's World Encyclopedia of Comics (1976) is an informative book worthy of calling itself an encyclopedia. The New Yorker's Encyclopedia basically is just a lengthy list of cartoon tropes supplemented with a few paragraphs of amusing verbiage and copiously illustrated with what should be many, many fine cartoons. Of course, I haven't seen the book, let alone read it, but I don't see why that should stop me from being the first to review it. I'm sure it will be extremely entertaining, at least in part, but it is never going to be the quintessential reference on desert island cartoons it pretends to be.

This book's raison d'être is simple: it will be vigorously marketed as an essential holiday gift for fans of the New Yorker cartoon, and there are millions of us. Should we pay full price? Of course not. As a matter of principle, you should wait for a discount unless you can get a couple of New Yorker cartoonists to sign your copy and add maybe a doodle or two. You can always pay full price for a gift if you need to, but probably not for yourself. The price is bound to come down eventually, and sooner rather than later.

But, wait! On August 1, Michael Maslin's Ink Spill blog announced to the world of New Yorker cartoonists and their fans that the prepublication price of The New Yorker Encyclopedia of Cartoons had been drastically reduced on Amazon to $55.23.

Ink Spill
August 1, 2018

That's great news, right? It's finally time to pounce! The one possible caveat here is that seemingly the exact same book is listed on Amazon with two separate publication dates and two very different prices. What gives? Could it be a mistake? Surely not on Amazon!

The New Yorker Encyclopedia of Cartoons Screenshot Retrieved August 4, 2018

Well, I decided not to take any chances. I placed my order pronto—that very day—locking in the savings. I had a forgotten $50 Amazon gift card (forgotten by me, not by Amazon) and I signed up for an Amazon Store card to receive a $10 bonus, so my copy of the book was already paid for. By the way, the discounted price of $55.23 divided by 3,000 cartoons comes to a mere 1.8 cents per cartoon. Now that's an insanely good deal. And shipping is free.

Amazon kept me in the loop. On August 15, Amazon informed me of the estimated arrival date:

Not too shabby! But twenty-four hours later, the email bots at Amazon changed their tune:

Thus my adroit order was abruptly canceled for an obviously spurious reason and I was redirected back to the $100 full-price copy of the book. The now unavailable edition once priced at $55.23 remains a ghostly presence on the Amazon site.

The New Yorker Encyclopedia of Cartoons Screenshot Retrieved August 17, 2018

September 24, 2018 Update: Even before release, the book has been discounted again, this time to $61.33.
The New Yorker Encyclopedia of Cartoons screenshot retrieved September 24, 2018

November 30, 2018 Update:  The book has been discounted to well below the price at which I initially was denied a copy. The deluxe edition is also significantly reduced. Was this the plan all along? I doubt it.
The New Yorker Encyclopedia of Cartoons screenshot retrieved November 30, 2018

December 1, 2018 Update:  The price of the regular edition dropped again overnight. 
The New Yorker Encyclopedia of Cartoons screenshot retrieved December 1, 2018

December 2, 2018 Update:  And now the price of the deluxe edition has dropped again. Judging by this and the price of the regular edition, some algorithm is at work determining the price.

The New Yorker Encyclopedia of Cartoons screenshot retrieved December 2, 2018

May 22, 2019 Update:  I bought my copy today for $43.99. It's not the lowest price ever, but it's more than a $10 discount from the offer Amazon refused to honor. This comes to 1.47 cents per cartoon.

Note:  Long before I tried to buy the Encyclopedia, I set myself a target price of $65, although I happily would pay full price for a copy signed by multiple cartoonists. As part of the promotion, I expect Bob Mankoff to be signing a great many copies of this book as he has with other books in the past. I might very well spring for a full-priced copy signed by him, but I'm wary that he might try to sign the entire press run.

I have no plans to purchase the deluxe edition, but I might if it were to come down to about $265, which I don't expect it to. Nevertheless, once it is published, I would be delighted if an owner would send me photos or scans of the three lithographs for inclusion on this blog.

Quick Links to the Attempted Bloggery Archives:

Bob Mankoff

David Remnick

Roz Chast

Attempted Bloggery's Disappointing Index



  1. Very informative & entertaining post. I'm still wondering why Bob Mankoff quit The New Yorker to work at... Esquire. Who reads Esquire?

    1. Well, Paul, I've never understood why anyone leaves the New Yorker. But surely somebody must be reading Esquire!