Pat Triggs looks at some recent moves in publishing.
Picture paperbacks are getting bigger, and more publishers are venturing into this area, many with original size editions.
In the larger format pictures can breathe, margins be retained and text appear in a more readable-sized type. Many mass market series now reproduce books at or near their original size. Russell Hoban’s ‘Frances’ books were paperbacks first in the original tiny Faber series, appeared next as a 1977 (small) Picture Puffin and are currently available near hardback size in Hippo. On the other hand some Picture Puffins – Sarah Garland’s Going Shopping and Doing the Washing for example – have to be larger than the original hardbacks to fit the Puffin format and perhaps lose some of their appeal in the process. And some – The Snowman, Going West, Outside Over There – appear in the original size.
This year there have been new moves in the area: two top quality full-size titles from Hodder (Leo Lionni’s Cornelius and Michael Foreman’s Land of Dreams), a new series from Blackie. Time we thought to talk to some of the editors and find out what is going on.
Oxford ‘soft-cover’ picture books first appeared about six years ago. They are original size paperback editions of established titles by Oxford author/artists: Brian Wildsmith, Victor Ambrus, Edward Ardizzone, Charles Keeping. Ron Heapy, Oxford’s children’s editor, says there was never any question of reduction in size. ‘Artwork of that quality might have been damaged if we’d reduced it. It’s not the sort of material to produce as a cheap line; we have to go for a quality product.’ So it’s good paper, sewn bindings and a top price of £2.50. ‘For some of our recent titles we’ve had to go through the £2 barrier but we’d want to hold it at £2.50. Round and Round the Garden (the pre-school rhyme and finger play collection) is £2.50 because it has 48 pages; but I don’t suppose many book buyers are aware of that.’ In fact many Oxford titles are still available at £1.25 and £1.75 and looking very good value in comparison with current ‘mass-market’ editions at the same price – a situation which holds for other publishers too as we shall see.
Oxford have no plans for soft-cover editions of books from other publishers but they are actively discussing what to do with their own titles. ‘We have open minds – it’s very much a subject for debate at the moment. We have some titles – Alex Brychta’s Wishwhat for instance – which wouldn’t suffer from being reduced – it might even benefit. We could go that way. We are just bringing out the Oxford Book of Poetry with Wildsmith’s illustrations in soft-covers. It will sell at £5.95 as against £7.95 for the hardback. We are considering doing the same with Kathleen Lines and Harold Jones’ Lavender’s Blue and Brian Wildsmith’s Mother Goose. There is some debate about whether bringing out a paperback will affect sales of the hardback. I don’t think so but opinions differ.’
Things are also on the move at Macmillan. Picturemacs – the series title for Macmillan paperback picture books – were launched in 1982. ‘We were having so much success with the Graham Oakley books in paperback that we decided to start a series,’ says editor Michael Wace. All Picturemacs are original size with sewn bindings; there are now more than 35 titles in the series, all from the Macmillan list. ‘But we are now beginning to buy in titles. We started last year with one of Ardizzone’s ‘Tim’ books and this month we have Anno’s Counting Book by arrangement with Bodley Head. We hope it is the first of many.’ Michael Wace, like Ron Heapy, sees his paperbacks as ‘quality books’. ‘We are a bit more expensive than the mass market paperbacks but we are trying to keep under £2 wherever possible, although the next time we reprint some titles will probably have to increase in price especially those with more than 32 pages. Our new Anno is £2.25 but we are doing Jill Murphy’s Whatever Next later this year and that will still be £1.95.’ Our advice – buy now. You could find Jill Murphy’s Peace at Last for £1.50. Fantastic value.
And the same goes for several titles from Hodder and Stoughton where Elizabeth Roy, managing editor for Knight, says they are busy rationalising their paperback publishing. ‘Some titles were paperbacked by Hodder, our hardback imprint, and they weren’t really geared up to deal with them. So now they are all coming over to Knight. We actually started publishing original-size paperback picture books about two years ago but we didn’t identify them with a series logo or anything, or try to build a big list. We imported The Magic Saddle, Cornelius and Land of Dreams (£1.95) from Hodder and Stoughton Australia where we have an editor who is very keen on paperback editions. We plan to bring in more and I’m also investigating originating our own titles. I’ve bought some already and we’ll be launching four more titles later this year including Jez Alborough’s Bare Bear. This will be original size like all the others. I want to build up slowly. I’d prefer to do fewer and get it right.’ Bargain hunters could well search out other Hodder paperbacks (some of which first appeared in the now defunct small size Colour Knights series in the early seventies) currently selling at £1.50 in large format. You could have Michael Foreman’s The Two Giants, Robert Swindells’ The Weather Clerk with marvellous pictures by Petula Stone, Keeping’s Black Dolly, Benjamin Elkin’s Six Foolish Fishermen, Roger Duvoisin’s The House of Four Seasons and lots of Val Biro’s Gumdrop stories.
At Sparrow Rosemary Canter is getting used to the idea that from July she’ll turn into a Beaver. Sparrow or Beaver, this is a very superior list. Not ‘original size’ but the standard 8″ x 9″ format seems to serve the titles well, and they are beautifully produced, with sewn bindings which gives a nice neat spine. Rosemary isn’t sure whether the list is ‘mass market or up-market’. ‘At £1.50-£1.75 our books are probably underpriced for what they are. Reprints and new titles will have to be £1.75-£1.95 but we don’t want to go over £2 if we can avoid it. At the moment I do eight titles a year. I’d like to increase it to twelve. I hope our association with Andersen will continue but I want to widen the appeal of the list by adding more titles at the younger end.’ Just out is a nearly full-size edition of Inga Moore’s The Vegetable Thieves and coming later this year Jill Paton Walsh/Jennifer Northway’s Babylon and titles from Ruth Brown and Tomie de Paola.
Rosemary Lanning is the editor of the newest picture paperbacks, from Blackie. It’s still a very experimental move. Jack Kent’s There’s no such thing as a dragon has gone very well and this month we have David McKee’s The Day the Tide Went Out and Out (£1.95) with a new cover and the Becker/Cooney Seven Little Rabbits (£1.50). They are all Blackie titles in hardback – the ones we know already are winners. We are producing them as close to the original size as possible but keeping a uniform width which helps with display. They are all wire stitched (like Puffins and most of the others) not sewn. We’ll definitely be doing more but I don’t know yet how many, and we have no plans for a series identity – we may just print Blackie Picture Paperbacks on the cover somewhere.’
Large format/original size picture paperbacks are excellent value for money (especially just now). You may have to seek them out in your booksellers – they are not always as freely available as for instance Puffins and Picture Lions. But it’s well worth the effort. Get hold of current catalogues for full details of titles, prices, sizes and availability. It’s worth keeping up with what’s happening now that picture books provide such a rich resource for all ages.