Small books, great profits

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rom Mr Steve Butler

Sir: James Fenton's article "Cheap, small, and perfectly formed" (31 July), though eminently sensible, may have given the impression that standard paperback sales are suffering as a result of the Penguin 60s phenomenon.

Authors and rival publishers may well be peeved at being pushed out of the bestseller lists, but the figures we collect from roughly 250 UK bookshops weekly suggest that sales of full-priced paperbacks are so far unaffected and indeed may be slightly better than is usual for this time of year; the Penguin 60s are outselling most of them, nevertheless.

What authors and other publishers may be losing in terms of free publicity from inclusion in published bestseller lists, they may well be making up in increased sales, as customers entering shops to buy the Penguin series pick up other titles. Booksellers, meanwhile, seem generally satisfied that the low profit margin on the Penguin 60 is being outweighed by undamaged general profitability and increased turnover.

Whether, as Mr Fenton suggests, "samplers" become a permanent feature of the bestseller lists if other publishers follow suit remains to be seen. Many publishers have tried this gambit in the past (thought not on this scale). The results have been mixed. In this case, the overriding factor in the customer's mind, after price, seems to be the quality of the author, rather than brand identity or presentation.

Many of the leading titles in the 60s series (Freud, Camus, Marcus Aurelius, Chekhov) have never been anywhere near a bestseller list before; authors more usually associated with bestsellers tend to be lower down this one. Presumably, bookbuyers are taking the opportunity to explore unknown territory. There may be a "pose" factor, too, though the leading Penguin 60, Anais Nin's A Model, is perhaps being bought for reasons other than visibility.

Yours sincerely

Steve Butler

Research Manager

Bookwatch

Chesham, Buckinghamshire

31 July

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