Remainders of the day: 60p Penguins sold for 6p

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The Independent Online
The British book trade's brief flirtation with the mini-book is over. The 60p format, last summer's publishing phenomenon, has suffered increasingly poor sales recently, and now booksellers and publishers have decided to abandon it.

But each blames the other for the demise of the mini-book, which was conceived as a one-off celebration for Penguin's 60th anniversary and sold 20,000 per title each week at the height of its popularity.

Last week's sales figures, as compiled by Bookwatch, the market research company that compiles the best-seller lists, show the top title (Cross Lines, by Maeve Binchy) selling a meagre 750 copies. Peter Carson, editor- in-chief at Penguin, said: 'We are not sure whether these poor sales are due to a genuine lack of demand or whether booksellers didn't want such a cheap product, but plans for any future development of the 60s have been put on hold."

The experiment, which came at a time when the book trade was still reeling from the demise of the Net Book Agreement, seemed for a while to have caught the public's imagination. An easy-to-carry, easy-to-read selection of highbrow philosophy or soft porn - Epicurus and Anais Nin were the top sellers - was the ultimate accessory, but for some booksellers the magic didn't last long, and the 60s didn't earn their keep.

"The whole exercise has been an irritation right from the beginning," says Valerie Latcham, owner of the Hereford Bookshop. "After the initial rush, the interest didn't last long. I'm very cross because I had to order a minimum of 100 copies of each title and wasn't told that I can't return them unsold. Now I'm selling two for 60p. They're no good for a small bookshop; people are buying one 60p book instead of, say, a card, and I'm losing money."

Pam Codd, who runs her own bookshop in Loughborough and is selling 60s for 30p, concurs: "We've had to work very hard just to recoup the price of a normal paperback. I won't be ordering any more."

The larger chains confirmed their disillusionment with the experiment, and blame the public's lack of interest for falling sales. Books Etc cleared out its stock several months ago, selling the books for 6p each. Other high-street names are cutting back.

While Penguin was congratulating itself on its success last year, others rushed in. Orionlaunched its Phoenix 60p paperbacks in December. Jonathan King, sales director, says its current summer selection will be its last, but he believes it is the booksellers, not the public, who are tired of the format. Faber, which had planned a collection of 60p poetry, has backed off.

However, the Penguins 60s have left their mark. Publishers these days face post-NBA nervousness, an unsettled UK market, spiralling costs and competition from the lnternet and CD-Rom, but they have been buoyed by the public's interest in a new-look book. Many intend to experiment further.

Among ideas being discussed are Orion's plans for pounds 1 poetry books and recipe collections for 99p, while Faber is looking at smaller hardbacks for pounds 2.50.

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