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The battle of the classics

6 August 2007

What price the classics?

The battle of the classics has commenced! Random House and Penguin are going head-to-head this month with their classics relaunches, with little to distinguish between them in price and everything down to presentation.

Perhaps you've packed a classic or two to read at the beach? Do you find that when you get there it seems to take an awfully long time to get through it, and you'd really rather be reading something a bit shorter?

If so, Orion's new abridged classics might be for you. Working on the assumption that many people who would like to have read the classics have been put off by their length and their own lack of time, Orion have started publishing a new series of Compact Editions, which have been 'sympathetically edited' by between 30% and 40% of their length. Malcom Edwards, Orion Group Publisher says: 'Literally, life is too short. Once you get to a certain place in your life, you realise that there is a finite number of books that you're going to be able to read.'

The publisher's research into readers' views of the classics showed that: 'The way they viewed the classic novel was as books that had been rammed down their throats at school and when they left, they gave them up, like algebra or chemistry... With novels there's a reaction that it's sacrilegious to think of touching them. They're not religious icons and they're not museum pieces, but they're in danger of becoming museum pieces.'

Only time will tell whether the market Orion have identified exists, but in the meantime the main battle is joined elsewhere, in the lucrative classics market. It's lucrative of course because there are no tiresome authors who need to receive royalties, although sometimes there may be a translator.

Headline have fired a broadside across the bows with their Jane Austen reissues, which present the novels as lightweight fun for a younger generation, but it's not yet clear whether book buyers have risen to the bait.

It all comes down to presentation. Rachel Cugnoni, Publishing Director of Vintage at Random House UKPenguin Random House have more than 50 creative and autonomous imprints, publishing the very best books for all audiences, covering fiction, non-fiction, poetry, children’s books, autobiographies and much more. Click for Random House UK Publishers References listing, says: 'These are great books that have stood the test of time, and I think they should be packaged as such... People who don't generally read books are not going to be persuaded to buy Jane Austen because you put a chick lit cover on it. I think that's unrealistic, and it's short term. This is a long-term venture for us.'