A customer wants a copy of Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino. No problem I say, confidently. But when I go to order it - Reprint Under consideration. What? How can that be? Oh, another Picador title that's been left to slowly die.
It's a great sadness and I've had this conversation with many people recently at what Macmillan has let happen to the once mighty Picador imprint. When I was a teenager getting into serious reading it was always the Picador and Penguin spines I looked out for. You were guaranteed something interesting. But Macmillan seem more interested in Jeffrey Archer, authors they don't pay advances to and selling 50 million learning English books to the chinese these days. Fair play I suppose, everyone's got to make a living but surely there are a few crumbs left to maintain a cracking backlist. Penguin and Random House seem to do ok. I think the real problem is that a few key people have left in the last few years and a serious interest in fiction is just not being pushed from the top.
Of course, Macmillan will go on about the number of Booker prize winners Picador have had in the last 3 years (2) but they were authors who worked with a publisher at Picador who left a couple of years ago and one of them really shouldn't have won. Anyway, it's the backlist that's disappearing. And while other publishers are keeping the flame alive by constantly re-jacketing and promoting - step forward Penguin - Picador just let old editions fester and fade. When we ordered One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest for the shop it still had the same Jack Nicholson cover that it did when I read it 18 years ago. The people who should be reading that now weren't even born when the film was out but it doesn't matter as it's another of the books Picador have lost. (It's at Penguin now still with Jack's face but with funkier graphics)
Still, luckily for Sue, our customer, none of this stops me from ordering the Calvino from America where it's still, very much, In Print.
(Particularly grating to Matthew, Robert Stone, whose backlist Picador haven't re-published since 1999 has a stonking good biography out called Prime Green in the states. Are Picador publishing it? No sign of it.)