Summer 2007 Relaunch of Vintage Classics
Two of Britain’s biggest book publishers are locked in a battle for control of the lucrative literary classics market. Penguin is the leading classics publisher, with its familiar black or silver-spined series accounting for about 65% of all classics sold in the UK. But next summer rival Random House will launch an audacious bid for a slice of those sales, aiming to transform Vintage into a recognized classics brand.
The new-look Vintage Classics will have fresh cover designs with “approachable but iconic” images to appeal to book lovers, which the publisher believes will contrast with the often more traditional Penguin covers.
Vintage has already established a Modern Classics brand, taking on writers such as Philip Roth, Martin Amis, Angela Carter, John Fowles and Iris Murdoch as rights revert from hardback imprints. But when their work slips out of copyright 70 years after their deaths, Penguin is likely to pounce, so Random is making a pre-emptive bid to establish Vintage as a classics brand. “If we don’t do this now, eventually everything will belong to Penguin,” said Rachel Cugnoni, publishing director of Vintage. “We’re really the only other house that can take them on. [….] We had to think of a way of increasing the business, and we had to protect our authors from becoming Penguin Classics of the future.”
Adam Freudenheim, classics publisher at Penguin, said that the rival list had much ground to make up: “We have over 800 black classics and 500 modern classics in print, we continue to bring out new translations and editions, and we’ve just had our best ever year for sales.”
The red-spined Vintage Classics will be launched with 20 titles in August 2007, including Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Middlemarch, Gulliver’s Travels, Oliver Twist, Tom Jones and the complete Grimm’s Fairy Tales. By Christmas 2007 there will be 50 titles on the list. The plan is to release six to eight titles a month over the next five years, split between out-of-copyright work and new editions of Vintage Modern Classics, which will be re-branded as Vintage Classics.
The texts will mostly be drawn from the Everyman editions. High-profile, new translations will be published as Vintage Classic hardbacks, and there will be occasional illustrated gift editions. Vintage will gradually introduce more marginal titles.
To design the new covers, Vintage showed competing sets of classics to focus groups of “archetypal ABC1 readers”. The groups felt Oxford University Press titles were “quite forbidding and academic”; Penguin Classics had a “stamp of quality and collectability, but look as if they’ll be hard going”; and the new Penguin Reds were “patronizing.”
Vintage then trialled prototypes of its rebranded classics, only to be told that readers wanted more “simple and approachable” jackets. “They didn’t want to be talked down to or persuaded to buy books with foil on the covers. They wanted something they could trust, that wasn’t too overstated, with a sense of style,” Ms Cugnoni said. [….] “[The covers] need to be fresh, classy and tasteful.” The publisher eventually chose a single “iconic” image for each cover.
The relaunch of the Vintage Classics list is being described as the biggest move in the paperback imprint’s 16-year history, backed by “huge” editorial and marketing investment. Launch marketing will include tailored trade promotions, customised p.o.s. material, a new website at vintage-classics.info, and a major publication “stunt.” The campaign for the series will have a bigger budget than the launch of a new thriller by Dan Brown or Thomas Harris.
According to Nielsen BookScan data (2004), Penguin has a classics market share of 65 percent, while OUP has 13 percent and Random has 10 percent.
Without further ado, here then are the first sixteen cover designs that will be part of the relaunch of the Vintage Classics list starting in August 2007. Click on a cover for the full size image:
I especially dig the Austen, Swift, Melville, Wilde and Grimm cover designs. Also, notice the consistent design element, reminicient of the branding techniques employed in French collections, of having “Vintage” + [author last name] appear in the top right hand corner of every cover. On the whole, a pretty attractive lot.
I wonder if they’ll be made available in Canada. As the forgotten children of the Commonwealth, we Canadians very often have American editions of British books imposed on us by publishers, either due to rights restrictions or to thriftiness (it’s cheaper to import from the US). When asked about the Canadian availability of these new Vintage Classics last month, my Random House rep replied: “They’re relaunching Vintage Classics?” Sounds promising…
Update 2007-07-20: Random House has confirmed that the new Vintage Classics will be available in Canada. For all the details, as well as 26 additional cover designs from this series, see part two of this post.