Business focus: anniversary publishing

Business focus: anniversary publishing

Everybody loves birthdays, especially publishers. Anniversary publishing, be it for an author, an individual book or a publishing house itself, gives publishers a unique opportunity to engage with readers around a clear focal point. Updated jackets and luxury anniversary editions bring backlist titles to a new generation and company anniversaries bring with them the opportunity to celebrate a publisher's unique identity in a retail landscape that is dominated by brand power.

Anniversaries also offer publishers a chance to connect with retailers and birthday editions do drive customer sales. In 2009, 76,081 copies were sold of the 10th anniversary edition of The Gruffalo (in addition to the 116,027 copies sold of the original paperback) resulting in an extra £334,150 worth of sales. Last year, under the strapline of "Happy Birthday Imagination" Penguin launched a multi-platform campaign to celebrate its 70th birthday and volume sales of its "70 Best Books for Children" increased by 48% compared to 2009.

Kirsten Grant, campaigns director at Puffin, says: "Widespread retailer support is crucial for an anniversary to really establish a nationwide groundswell of activity. We had fantastic participation from independents around both The Very Hungry Caterpillar's 40th and Puffin's 70th anniversaries. The anniversaries provided a reason for them to celebrate and re-promote. They not only supported the new backlist and frontlist promotions that we created for them, but often went even further, by creating amazing windows, parties and events to really draw in the consumer and bring our brands to life."

Celebrating its 21st this year Vintage has a full programme of birthday events, including an Open Day last month (where members of the public could go to the Vintage offices for seminars and to hobnob with editors and authors), a pop-up "Vintage Parlour" at London's Southbank Centre in the summer, a Vintage 21st Rainbow promotion (which sees 21 Vintage books including Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife and Sebastian Faulks' A Week in December rebranded with new colour-based jackets) and the launch of the inaugural Vintage Independent Bookseller of the Year competition.

Rachel Cugnoni, Vintage's publisher, says the anniversary has received strong feedback from retailers: "With the 21st, we want to bring in new readers, but it's not just about commercial success but also about engaging with the brand and pushing the depth of our backlist. We've had great feedback from retailers, and independents have really embraced the anniversary. Hodges Figgis [the Dublin-based bookshop owned by Waterstone's] had sold 250 copies of Vintage books within three days of having its 21st display up, which is amazing. It's really great that we can use the anniversary to support independents."
Brand recogniton
Is anniversary publishing just for the big boys though? To make any kind of impact does an author need to be as beloved as Julia Donaldson or a publisher's brand as recognisable as Puffin's? For Grant "the brand does need to be one which is already highly successful and recognisable with both consumers and retailers in order to get a real sense of momentum behind the celebration". She adds: "In my experience, the publishing created to celebrate an anniversary has to be absolutely the right product, which provides a hook for both retailers and consumers. If the publishing is new and imaginative, like a new format, such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar Pop-Up or the [low price point list] Pocket Money Puffins, or utterly must-have, such as the Puffin Designer Classics, it provides a brilliant platform and opportunity to drive sales for an author or brand."

Cugnoni suggests that although strong publishing brands do have a leg-up when it comes to anniversary publishing, all publishers do have the opportunity to build their brand through the celebration of birthdays and key events: "The obvious publisher brand is Penguin, and it does have an advantage, but that's not to say that anybody can't build one. -Virago, for example, is bigger than the sum of its parts brand-wise. Niche publishers can have massive brand awareness that they can celebrate with anniversaries."

She adds: "Smaller publishers trying to do what we're doing, on the scale that we're doing it, would be a hard call. And I do think there is a temptation to celebrate ‘five years' or ‘10 years', which I don't think is always successful, as publishers can end up just talking to themselves. Although that isn't always necessarily a bad thing, as it is good to talk to agents and the rest of the publishing family. With our 21st campaign we're taking it one step further and making it not just about our brand, but about the act of reading itself."

To help facilitate this, Cugnoni says Vintage will publish a book called Stop What You're Doing and Read This in August. She does not want to reveal much about the book at the moment, but it will focus on the psychology of reading.

Bolstering sales
The next couple of years will see a variety of anniversaries that publishers can embrace; a large number of books will be published this autumn to coincide with the 10-year anniversary of 9/11, and independent publisher, The History Press, has a 13-book publishing programme in 2012 dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the "Titanic". The bicentenary of Charles Dickens' birth will also be celebrated in 2012, with the BBC planning a slew of programmes about the author, a number of biographies in the works—including Claire Tomalin's Charles Dickens: A Life (Viking) and Simon Callow's Dickens (Harper)—all of which will undoubtedly prove a boon to classics' publishers.  

Later this month Hutchinson will publish a 40th anniversary edition of Frederick Forsyth's The Day of the Jackal and, in August, Oxford University Press will launch a campaign to celebrate 100 years of the Oxford Concise English Dictionary. The 12th and centenary edition of the OCED will come with a free, cover-mounted facsimile of the first ever edition; the booklet will contain a brief history of the OCED and visual material from the publisher's archive. OUP will also publish a facsimile of the 1911 first edition in hardback, with a reproduction of the original cover and a new introduction by linguist David Crystal.

Angus Stevenson, head of dictionary projects at OUP, recognises that this enhanced anniversary edition is a way of bolstering sales in a declining market: "Sales of printed dictionaries are down but there are new ways of making an income for dictionary products, be it from online, or with a product like this. The booklet really adds value to the dictionary and it is great to be able to take stock of our history. It will be like buying a CD that has been remastered with extra tracks."

Faber & Faber's 80th
Formed in 1929, Faber & Faber, celebrated its 80th anniversary in 2009. Faber 80 was a year-long campaign of events and publications (80 in total) which fêted the independent's illustrious history. The 80th campaign was a cross-departmental one and Rachel Alexander, publicity director, says: "A company anniversary has to become a company moment. It is key that everyone engages with it, and the level of engagement here was really strong.

"We tried to build a campaign that was as diverse and far reaching as possible in terms of engaging readers. Our 80th celebrated both our great writers and our important books but also showcased the talent of a lot of people in-house at Faber." She adds: "If a broad campaign is going to work it has to be joined up across departments and people here really care about the company and its history and it was an opportunity to think creatively for everyone."

Alexander explains that the aim of the campaign was to tell Faber's "publishing story" across all strands, with an emphasis on the new and the next generation of Faber readers. The campaign also included a major focus on T S Eliot, one of Faber's founding fathers, a new venture with the Arts Council England to publish the work of début poets as well as a strong design element, centring on Faber and Faber: 80 Years of Book Cover Design by Joseph Connolly. Online activity was a vital part of the campaign and a dedicated website was created to show off Faber's jackets and a widget was developed showcasing a poem a week for a year.

No matter the size or age of a company, Alexander believes that anniversaries present an opportunity to raise the profile of a publisher: "There is no reason you can't go big on a fifth anniversary, but it is about the ideas behind the publishing and there has to be a reason for it, a strong publishing programme and inventive promotions are absolutely key. We're lucky that we have so many great authors past and present, and author involvement was absolutely key to its success."

Faber firsts
As part of the 80th celebrations Faber's Paperback Team also created Faber Firsts, a repackaging of 10 first novels by 10 of its key writers including The Buddha of Suburbia by Hanif Kureishi, The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, A Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro and The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster. The 10 novels, which were published as B-format paperbacks in May 2009, were all given a new cover designed by a contemporary designer.

Hannah Griffiths, director of paperbacks, says: "The 80th anniversary was really coming together from a publicity point of view and we knew we wanted to do something editorially, but my original thought was that anniversary publishing can be really boring, and we didn't want to just do the same books but with updated introductions. So we thought about the idea of eight decades and the design flavours that came with that and how we could do something that was fun."

Creating the Faber Firsts changed Griffiths' attitude towards anniversary publishing: "The reason I now think that anniversary publishing is amazing is that we had taken these books for granted before. They were our super-league heritage books that always sell but that we never really have anything to do with in the fast, frontlist world. Before Faber Firsts our relationship to them was a bit like a marriage that had gone on too long, so for the 80th we re-read them and thought about them again as not just bread and butter books, but as exciting books. Once you start to re-imagine something, others can re-imagine it too and in-house the titles became contemporary again, which meant that we were then able to go to the trade and sell them as books that had been lifted beyond the backlist."

She adds: "We broke the Penguin and Bloomsbury rule of having a set series look, and gave each one its own identity. These are books that are reprinted endlessly, without us really looking at the copy. This time round we wanted to tell the stories again and not just the mythology behind them. These authors are the reason we all work at Faber, and our designers were so excited to be doing new things, for them it really was like being able to design Kate Middleton's wedding dress."

To Kill a Mockingbird at 50

To mark the 50th anniversary of Harper Lee's classic Pulitzer-
winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird last year Random House released two special anniversary editions: an Arrow paperback priced at £6.99 and a hardback, clothbound gift edition through William Heinemann, priced £18.99. The week of the anniversary the novel re-entered the charts at number 14, its highest position since BookScan records began in 1998.

To Kill a Mockingbird has sold more than 30 million copies worldwide and has been translated into more than 40 languages. The regular mass market edition of TKAM averages about 50,000 copies a year in the UK, worth about £240,000 (in the 52 weeks before the 50th anniversary editions were published, that edition had value sales of just under £300,000). Interestingly, the TKAM anniversary editions have added an additional £768,000 in sales in the 43 weeks since publication, with the regular mass-market -edition selling as strongly as the previous year.

Century and Arrow publisher Kate Elton says: "The level of sales speak from themselves about our success at getting new readers for the book. TKAM is an interesting book, because a lot of people discover it at a young age through school, so it is a classic which is constantly being rediscovered anyway, but I think the range of media that we got, meant that a different kind of person came to it, via a different route.

"The hardback and paperback editions are very different things—the hardback is amazing and so beautifully produced and we had fantastic support across the high street and the mass market with the supermarkets, so it was also really important to keep the paperback at a more accessible price point."

One key element of Random House's campaign was activity with literacy charity the Reading Agency, and the organisations sent out reading packs to book groups and special promotional material to more than 630 libraries. Online activity was also an important element of the campaign and a dedicated Facebook page was set up.

For Elton, publishers should not ". . . just do anniversary publishing for the sake of it because a book hits a fifth or 10th anniversary. A book needs to be important in its own way and it needs to be something that other people, and not just the publisher, wants to celebrate. At Arrow we rejacket a lot and we are constantly looking at the possibilities of anniversary publishing as a way to bring our backlist titles to the front again, and help readers to find fantastic books again; that's a key part of our job as publishers."

Case Study:
OUP's King James Version Bible 400th anniversary

At the end of 2010 Oxford University Press published three books to co-incide with the 400th anniversary celebrations for the King James Version of the Bible this year.

Kate Farquhar-Thomson, head of publicity at OUP, explains that working with such an influential book meant that timing was absolutely key for the campaign: "We published last year in advance as we knew that there was going to be competition and we wanted to be first out of the blocks, we knew we could not get there too early, but given that we wereworking with a bible we wanted to catch that key autumn and Christmas period. We also knew that the media was going to be important part of the anniversary, like BBC Radio."
OUP's anniversary offering included The Holy Bible: 400th Anniversary Edition, a luxury facsimile edition of the 1611 text, with genealogies; Bible: The Story of the King James Version, 1611–2011 by Gordon Campbell; and Begat: The King James Bible and the English Language by David Crystal, which charts the influence of the KJV on English.

Farquhar-Thomson says: "Even though we had this fantastic high-profile product and fantastic anniversary to work with we still needed to be creative. Which is why we did not just do a new edition, but also a biography and a text on the language itself; we wanted to offer a whole package and not just capitalise on one product."

The 400th anniversary publishing schedule was less about social media and online marketing for OUP and more about being part of the celebrations on a national level. Farquhar-Thomson says: "There was a major national campaign launch in November 2010 with the King James Bible Trust and we wanted to be part of that, we wanted to be there, ready with the books."

Put a date in your diary
Tom Tivnan offers a brief selection of books and events to look forward to, and build table displays around


The attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon take an even deeper relevance with the recent death of Osama Bin Laden. Books scheduled for an autumn release include Jason Burke's The 9/11 Wars (Allen Lane), Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn's 102 Minutes (Arrow), Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan's The Eleventh Day (Ballantine) and a tenth anniversary edition of Noam Chomsky's 9-11 
(Seven Stories).
Frederick Forsyth's Day of the Jackal—40th
Following Arrow's rejacketing of five of Forsyth's backlist on 7th April, including his seminal thriller The Day of the Jackal, Hutchinson will release a limited edition 40th anniversary hardcover on 26th May.  
Joseph Heller's 
Vintage Classics will release a 50th anniversary edition of Heller's anti-war classic in October.
Souvenir Press and Peter Owen Publishers—60th
The two longstanding indies celebrate 60 years in the business this year, both companies still headed by maverick founders Ernest Hecht (Souvenir) and Peter Owen.  

Diamond Jubilee
Elizabeth II's 60th year on the throne will be marked officially by a four-day weekend from the 2nd to 5th June 2012. Few titles are announced just yet, but expect a flurry of respectful glossy picture books and biogs.  

Charles Dickens' Bicentenary
Publishing includes a new range of Duckworth's Nonesuch Dickens list and a new abridged edition of Peter Ackroyd's biography of the writer from Vintage.
There will be lots of titles to choose from to mark the 100 years since the sinking of the unsinkable ship, the subsequent creation of one of the most overused metaphors in the language and a publishing cottage industry. Frances Wilson's How to Survive the Titanic or the Sinking of J Bruce Ismay (Bloomsbury)—a biography of the ship's owner who was vilified for cowardice after saving himself by jumping into a boat with women and children—is an early standout.    
J R R Tolkien's The Hobbit 75th Anniversary
The first half of Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson's two-part Hobbit adaptation is scheduled for a December 2012 release, so expect a lot of tie-in publishing around that, including HarperCollins' 75th anniversary Hobbit/Lord of the Rings box set, due in October 2012.  

Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice—200th
It is a truth universally acknowledged that, if done well, booksellers and publishers will get a lot extra sales out of this beloved classic.