First, this book is not as rare as claimed. There is a new edition currently available which can be found elsewhere on Amazon, although it is, in my opinion, grossly overpriced. And, as I will explain, there are other ways to get a copy of it besides spending nearly 100 of your hard earned dollars. I hate to pass on buying a book, but the publisher is just nuts selling it for nearly $100.00.
Eugene Schwartz is one of copywriting and advertising's legends. His story is well known among copywriters: He started in mail order as a delivery boy in 1949 and became a junior copywriter before the end of that year. By 1951, he was a copy chief and became the president of his own mail order firm in 1954. He skills as a copywriter led him to become one of advertising's highest paid consultants (Rodale Press once paid him a commission of $54,000 for four hours work).
This book is considered by many to be a classic on copywriting in general and mail order copywriting in particular. It is also legendarily reputed to be the "most stolen" book from public libraries and it is claimed that there are only 130 copies to be found in the world. I'm not sure about that claim as my local library came up with a 1966 copy with no problem and the librarian indicated that other copies were available from other libraries. She also had never heard of it as being the "most stolen" book in public libraries.
This is the most recently published edition and it appears to have been published, in part, because of the reputed difficult of finding copies. The price of $95.00 would seem to reflect a pent-up demand for it (more on that later).
"Breakthrough Advertising" is excellent in its analysis of advertising and the marketplace. Schwartz was an advocate of the idea that advertising could not create demand but it could channel it to a certain product. He referred to demand as "Mass Desire" and believed that there had to be some level of desire before a product could be offered and sold profitably. An example he uses is that of weight loss. There is a huge mass desire to lose weight and, as a consequence, a demand for weight loss products. The job of the copywriter, according to Schwartz, is to tap into that demand and channel it to the particular product the copywriter is selling.
Schwartz continues throughout the book to analyze the make-up of a good advertisement, focusing heavily on the headline as being the make-or-break item of any good advertisement. He then continues in a discussion and analysis of the body of an advertisement as well as giving his opinion on some aspects of layout. He admittedly doesn't spend much time on the subject of layout, but his discussion of layout is quite revelatory.
Schwartz's work isn't necessarily a great revelation today. Most other books I have read on the subject of advertising and copywriting recognize many of the same principles he discusses. In fact, you can read on everything he touches upon in other more modern, and cheaper, sources. That being said, the book is still a worthwhile read. Schwartz has an engaging writing style and he does a great job of breaking his chapters down into subtopics and subheadings (a direct mail technique he obviously is employing in his book). Anyone with an interest in copywriting and advertising should take the time to read and learn from Schwartz. You will no doubt learn something about the craft of copywriting that you previously were unaware of.
Now as to the price of the current edition, if you are like I normally am and just have to have a book on your shelf, you might want to go ahead and buy it. I personally found the price prohibitive and did not purchase it. Instead, I checked the library's copy out and took a lot of notes. I would love to add this book to my library, but not at a cost of $95.00. I really think someone is gouging those with any interest in Schwartz's work at that price, but I guess there are more than enough individuals willing to that price for them to offer it at $95.00.
The price seems even more prohibitive given the fact that most of the information is available from other sources and the fact that the writing is somewhat dated.