Robert Redford in the 1974 film of The Great Gatsby. Photograph: Ronald Grant Archive
While recession bites elsewhere, sales of Wordsworth Editions’ £1.99 classics have surged.
By Alison Flood
As the winds of recession sweep across the UK, a story of the decadent rich in New York has beaten the gloom, with a £1.99 edition of The Great Gatsby selling 232% more than last year.
Elsewhere, publishers are feeling the squeeze, with spending on printed novels down 10%, or £35m, on 2010. But sales in cheap classics are booming, with Wordsworth Editions, which publishes around 200 works of classic fiction for £1.99 apiece, up 10.9% so far this year, with its fiction in particular surging by 18%.
“I think the big reason has to be recessionary,” said Philip Stone, charts editor of the Bookseller. “Publishers of more expensive classics such as Penguin, Oxford University Press and Oneworld haven’t enjoyed that kind of growth from their classics this year.”
Stone pointed to the £1.99 Wordsworth edition of The Great Gatsby, up by 232% year-on-year to 11,550 copies sold, and to the £1.99 Wordsworth edition of Jane Eyre, up by 59.5% year-on-year. Penguin’s £7.99 edition of the F Scott Fitzgerald classic saw sales growth of 15.4% to 3,328 copies in comparison, according to book sales monitor Nielsen BookScan.
Derek Wright, director at Wordsworth, said the publisher’s overall sales have doubled over the last five years to reach £1.3m in the year to end-May 2011, and are on course to be “even better” this year, already at almost £900,000 in the six months since.
“Historically, our classics thrive in recessions. The £1 classic paperback came out in 1992 when the country was in its third year of recession. This was long before I worked for Wordsworth, and I can remember it well, because suddenly there were these big displays in the high-street chains like John Menzies, and I bought them by the dozen,” he said.