The future of the book trade?

With its snazzy new "Great Ideas" series released this month, Penguin Books hopes to provide an economical remedy for time-pressed readers in search of intellectual sustenance.

Each of the paperbacks costs $8.95 and offers readers a sampling of the world’s great non-fiction. For example, the Gibbon book is a slim 92-page selection called The Christians and the Fall of Rome. It presents Gibbon as sort of an intellectual tapas to be savored in one sitting.

Here is the full story.  Like it or not, I see the non-fiction sector as heading toward shorter and shorter books.  Can you do one hundred pages on monetary policy?  Get this:

Because "we want readers to be able to get close to the text," the books do not have introductions or prefaces, Penguin publisher Kathryn Court says. "It’s daunting. There are so many books and so little time."


Interesting, considering that the trend in fiction is the opposite. When I was growing up, typical novels (I was an SF reader) went 250-300 pages: a 400 page work was an exception. Nowadays, 400 pages are the minimum: 1000+-page boat anchors (Robert Jordan, anyone?) are not uncommon.

I think this is an excellent idea. Having read significant sections of
Gibbon's work, I think it is fair to say that there is plenty of material
in that work that is not absolutely necessary to read to understand the
main points of his thesis. Having a scholar(I am sure Penguin has employed
an individual who is well qualified to judge what the key sections are)
edit a classic work down to key sections is a great way to expose folks to
classic literature and research.
The vocabulary, grammar, and allusions of classic works are going to be
difficult for a modern reader without intense study. Reframing such works
to make them more accessible to us is an excellent goal.

Maybe the huge success of Freakonomics has gotten more publishers interested in short works of nonfiction.

Next up: Moby-Dick without the descriptions of whale anatomy, Dickens without the descriptions of the streets of London, and other improvements to fiction.

The best books are short.

How much to write is extremely difficult to pinpoint; any experimentation is welcome.

I used to be strongly against abridged editions, until I read an unabridged copy of _The Hunchback of Notre Dame_. You will not be surprised to hear that the Disney movie (which I had seen first; only reading longer books means you get to fewer of them over time) was sanitized. I was surprised by the chapter on the geography of Paris, and now am greatly in favor of good abridgements.

Comments for this post are closed