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Quality cannot pay for itself


You can’t have a kissing couple on the cover of a Penguin book!
Peter Mayer Publisher
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Ah, yes. We… I had this couple kissing on the cover.  So, we got a lot of stick from readers, but far fewer from readers, a lot from third-rate journalists.  They said, how can you have a couple kissing on the cover on a Penguin book?  I said, well, forget that it's a Penguin book.  Have you read this book?  They're kissing in the book.  Why shouldn't they be kissing on the cover?  That shut them up.  And they kept kissing on the cover, and people kept buying the book and reading it.

And I think there were other people who said, well, a book that is that large, it won't fit into racks, because the racks are designed for A-size books.  And I remember saying, well, then the racks have become the publisher instead of me.  You'll have to change the racks so the… for the larger size book.

[Q] How did you know how to do all that?

I didn't.  I didn't know what I was doing.  I knew that, if it worked, it would be very good for the author.  It would be very good for the book itself.  It would be very good for readers.  It would be very good for booksellers.  It would be very good for Penguin.  But, in other words, I created a model that, if it worked, would be a virtuous circle.  It would be good for everybody.

But, I mean, I did have the power - I was the CEO - to price the book any way I wanted to, to have the book be in any format, to have a couple on the cover that was sufficiently provocative to make people… it was not very provocative.  They were fully clothed. But it… the shock was that it was on a Penguin cover.  We don't do things like this at Penguin.  Well, you better, because nobody will read your books otherwise.  People are people.

Peter Mayer (1936-2018) was an American independent publisher who was president of The Overlook Press/Peter Mayer Publishers, Inc, a New York-based publishing company he founded with his father in 1971. At the time of Overlook's founding, Mayer was head of Avon Books, a large New York-based paperback publisher. There, he successfully launched the trade paperback as a viable alternative to mass market and hardcover formats. From 1978 to 1996 he was CEO of Penguin Books, where he introduced a flexible style in editorial, marketing, and production. More recently, Mayer had financially revived both Ardis, a publisher of Russian literature in English, and Duckworth, an independent publishing house in the UK.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: Penguin Books, The Far Pavilions

Duration: 2 minutes, 17 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2014-January 2015

Date story went live: 12 November 2015