Friday, July 21

don't fudge a book by its cover

From The Observer Blog:

Ridiculous as it may sound, publishing's latest obsession is the repackaging of classics.

You might have thought that there would not be much mileage in giving poor old Dickens and Eliot whizzy new covers and panting new jacket blurbs but, if so, you'd be wrong, fulminates Rachel Cooke.

Publishers think this stuff makes a difference and they have the sales figures to prove it. 'We find that when we publish multiple editions of the same title, they always work,' Adam Freudenheim, the publisher of Penguin Classics told The Bookseller recently. 'You end up reaching more readers by a different format, a different look.'

This year has brought us two new editions of Jane Austen - one from Penguin Red Classics, and one from Headline. Both look pretty awful, if you ask me - Georgette Heyer meets Jane Green is the best description I can come up with. Likewise with Bronte's Wuthering Heights or Nabokov's Lolita: have a look yourself.

The publishers would say that I am simply being snobbish. Their watchword is 'relevant'; they don't want to 'intimidate' readers; a great story is a great story - full stop.

Why, I wonder, must everything be made to seem so easy?

Jane Austen isn't a writer of mere romances; she's far more complex - and savage - than that. In this week's arts column, I'm asking if this isn't just a kind of cynicism on the part of publishers: are they duping people into buying books that, once they've opened, they will find unpalatable, even unreadable?

Or is anything at all that increases sales of classic novels something for which we should give grateful thanks? Are there less well-known classic novels that you think could actually benefit from a marketing push for today's readers or should we leave well alone?

How many times have I bought a book solely for its cover?

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