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This report is taken from PN Review 20, Volume 7 Number 6, July - August 1981.

The Dignified Browser John Clark
These days, you don't have to read any books to find out what's happening in the fiction industry: all you need to do is look at the covers-they'll tell you more than the contents. Take, for instance, Penguin Books. Since the mid-1960s, the covers of their fiction have undergone a facelift in order to maintain sales amidst increasing pressure from other-especially American- competitors. When Penguin started they were unrivalled in the paperback market; now there is a score of paperback imprints jostling for attention on the shelves, and Penguin have found themselves in a position comparable to-say-the invasion of Marks and Spencer's traditional market by the slightly more 'popular' Sainsburys and BHS. No longer can Penguin's directors claim (as they did) that 'the Penguin public is not the victim of high pressure salesmanship'. In the last five years particularly, Penguin have had to resort to a harder sell and present a more visually attractive product, one that will stimulate the impulse buyer as well as the dignified browser.

This change of emphasis is visible in several ways. If you possess any Penguin novels produced in the 1950s or early 1960s, there will probably be a 'biopic' on the back cover: a photograph of the author with biographical details underneath. Its presence seems to me the symptom of a much calmer, sentimental era in publishing. It practically disappeared in the late 1960s when more aggressive marketing techniques became the order of the day. Initially, editorial blurb replaced the biopic on ...


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