This May, New Directions will reissue its classic, groundbreaking book of fiction and nonfiction by Jorge Luis Borges, Labyrinths. The new edition of the book--which has been one of NDs' best sellers since its release in 1961, typically selling 8,000 copies annually--will feature a metallic cover, textual corrections, and a specially commissioned introduction by bestselling science fiction author William Gibson (also read PW's Q & A with Gibson about Borges). New Directions arguably has one of the most impressive literary backlists in American publishing, with major titles by Vladimir Nabokov, Tennessee Williams, Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, Octavio Paz, Borges, Pablo Neruda and Dylan Thomas, among many others. While ND continues to publish acclaimed new books, many of them translations, such as novels by W.G. Sebold and Roberto Bolaño, ND senior editor Declan Spring said the backlist is still its bread and butter. WIth the new edition of Borges on the horizon, PW thought now would be a perfect time to look at ND's ongiong reissue program, begun two years ago, in which it's redesigning covers for many of its backlist titles and commissioning new introductions by well-known contemporary writers in the hopes of giving new life to classic books.
"We’re reissuing the big sellers but also the smaller sellers," said Spring. With the titles they’ve done so far--which include Journey to the End of the Night by Céline, Neruda’s Residence on Earth, A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams and Nightwood by Djuna Barnes--the results, according to Spring, have been good: "What we’ve seen is an initial boost in sales--a book that will be selling 5 or 6 thousand copies a year will automatically get orders of 2 or 3 thousand more copies. It’s nice to be able to count on that. It remains to be seen whether this will increase sales in the long term." ND printed up 15,000 copies of the Borges reissue, which demonstrates their faith in the repackaged book.
The reissues are also a way to try to deal with competing editions. In bookstores, readers looking for a collection of Borges will be confronted by big editions from Penguin and smaller collections from Penguin classics, alongside the ND edition. According to ND editor Thomas Kieth, "We certainly hope the shiny new cover will catche people's eye." Nabokov’s Laughter in the Dark, along with Labyrinths and Sartre’s Nausea, is also being reissued this season. According to Spring, Laughter in the Dark has been underselling "because of the Random House editions from Vintage, but we were the first to publish three of Nabokov’s books." The hope is that the new ND edition, with an introduction by Irish novelist John Banville, will be able to compete with the Vintage books. "It’s also an opportunity to take books that are languishing and reintroduce those as well," said Spring. In the Internet age, ND has also become its own competition: "Another thing we’ve noticed is a slight drop in sales on some of these titles because students can buy these books used on Amazon, so we’re trying to counteract that."
For longtime ND fans worried about missing the iconic black and white book jackets, Spring said the new designers--Rodrigo Corrall and Gus Powell--are "doing a great job of retaining the vintage ND look but giving them a new feel. The goal here is not just to increases the sales, but also to reach a whole generation of readers." Sounds like ND is still following the dictum of one of its early authors, Ezra Pound, who said "make it new."