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Publisher Hopes Thinking Small Goes Over Big

August 11, 1995|PAUL D. COLFORD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Barnes & Noble, the nation's largest bookstore chain, placed a colossal order for 2.1 million copies.

Of the new Tom Clancy paperback?

A new novel by Stephen King?

Hardly.

B & N is expecting a big response to the new Penguin 60s--a line of 60 palm-sized literary paperbacks that will sell for 95 cents apiece as part of Penguin Books' 60th anniversary.

"We've never had an order like that in our lives," said Peter Mayer, Penguin's chief executive officer. "I think many people will be willing to try out an author for 95 cents instead of paying regular paperback prices of $5.95 or higher."

The Penguin 60s, limited editions that started arriving in stores this month, include O. Henry's "The Gift of the Magi and Other Stories," Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Nature," Thomas Paine's "The Crisis," Franklin Delano Roosevelt's "Fireside Chats," H.G. Wells' "The Time Machine" and Garrison Keillor's "Truckstop and Other Lake Wobegon Stories."

A book buyer could pick up all 60 titles for about $60--and come away with a diverse mini-library. The lengths of the books, distinguished by Penguin's trademark orange spines, range from 64 to 96 pages. Only 6 million copies will be available in the United States.

The launch of the Penguin 60s recalls the publisher's origins in London 60 years ago as a purveyor of inexpensively priced reissues of quality books.

Those first Penguin paperbacks, including Ernest Hemingway's "A Farewell to Arms" and Agatha Christie's "The Mysterious Affair at Styles," were brought out by Allen Lane, then the managing director of the Bodley Head, a British publishing concern. Since helping to spearhead the paperback revolution, Penguin has become one of the best-known publishing brand names in the world.

The idea for the Penguin 60s came to Mayer during a visit to Alianza, a Spanish publisher. He saw boxes of little books and learned that the house had sold millions of copies at 100 pesetas (about 95 cents) apiece--and not only in bookstores, but also in gas stations and other outlets that stock impulse items.

"Since Penguin's origins were low-priced books, the idea seemed perfect for us, too," Mayer said.

*

Books Live On: There's further reason to believe books will endure in the computer-driven age, as the publishers of Wired magazine proceed with plans to launch a book division called HardWired.

Peter Rutten, president of HardWired, says the San Francisco-based publisher's start-up list next year will total 11 books.

They include the "Wired Style Guide," which weds the respected Wired name to a reference book that defines the software and technospeak of the digital revolution. Another scheduled reference title is "The Reality Check," in which the HardWired and Wired staffs "will look at the technological developments and have authorities in the field give the point at which these advances will start affecting your life," Rutten said.

A third volume, a kind of art book, will reprise spreads and layouts from Wired and describe how the magazine put them together using desktop apparatus.

HardWired also plans to publish fiction.

"We are the last people to say the book is dead," said Rutten, the former creative director of Michael Wolff and Co., which developed the "Netguide" book series. "Here, we think the book is very much alive. There's a lot you can do with a book that you can't do otherwise."

*

Afterwords: Riding the conservative and Newtonian revolution, National Review since 1989 has more than doubled the circulation it guarantees advertisers (its rate base), which now stands at 250,000, according to the industry newsletter Capell's Circulation Report. . . .

Details has tripled its rate base since 1991, to 464,000 copies per issue. Another standout in Capell's July review of recent magazine-circulation audits is Vanity Fair, whose 1.1 million copies a month exceeds its rate base by more than 300,000. . . .

Writing in the July/August issue of the new magazine Civilization, Rebecca Pepper Sinkler amiably reviews her years as a top editor of the New York Times Book Review. Such as the time in 1991 that Norman Mailer was given a full page to rebut John Simon's less-than-glowing review of the novelist's "Harlot's Ghost."

As Sinkler recalls, executive editor "Joe Lelyveld and I have often chuckled about how we got 1,600 words out of Norman Mailer without paying a cent."

* Paul D. Colford is a columnist for Newsday. His column is published Fridays.

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