Penguin USA is more than halfway through a promotional campaign intended to increase the recognition of the Penguin brand name as well as to boost the visibility of the publisher's backlist. According to David Shanks, CEO of Penguin USA, too many people in publishing see the word backlist "as a pejorative and associate it with an out-of date book." It's Penguin's view, however, that "if a person hasn't read a book, it's new to them," Shanks said.
Shanks said the best example of what Penguin aims to achieve is the success of East of Eden. Picked as the first selection of Oprah Winfrey's new book club, the John Steinbeck classic is also enjoying "great word of mouth," Shanks said, and the number of copies in print is now up to 1.6 million. In addition, Penguin is shipping lots of other Steinbeck titles, Shanks said.
The Penguin backlist campaign, however, is about more than just promoting its classics. Every imprint is represented, ranging from children's to adult and from hardcover to mass market paperbacks, said Penguin publisher Susan Petersen Kennedy. The marketing directors at each Penguin imprint chose titles to be included in the promotion, and about 400 books are featured in the materials.
The centerpiece of the campaign is 12 full-page ads in PW. The first ad ran May 26 and the last one is set for November 3. Each ad is centered on a concept such as vision, love, adventure and power. "We want to remind the trade about the importance of paying attention to the backlist," Shanks told PW. Shanks said that he understands that retailers will make frontlist titles a priority, but added that they should consider mixing in backlist. "These are battle-tested books that have low returns," he noted. Backlist titles account for about 35% of Penguin's annual sales.
Although Shanks said it is hard to quantify what the response to the campaign has been, Kennedy said she has been pleasantly surprised. The most unexpected aspect of the promotion has been the number of order forms that have been downloaded for printing from Penguin's Web site; through the first three months, 6,669 forms were downloaded. "I find that amazing," Kennedy said. She said the campaign has also helped remind the trade that "Penguin publishes writers that sell forever."