Relaunching Oxford World’s Classics

This piece by Judith first appeared on

This week sees the culmination of two years’ planning and preparation with the relaunch of Oxford World’s Classics in new covers. It’s been ten years since we last had a new look, so it was time for a makeover, and yesterday at the London Book Fair we officially unveiled the new livery at a seminar on ‘How to edit the classics’ in the morning, and a drinks reception in the evening.

Managing a relaunch on this scale involves a lot of people and coordination between different publishing functions. There are over 700 titles in the list, and we had both to schedule reprints for those books we wanted to re-cover in the first few months, and deal with other titles whose stock in the old look was going to run out after April 2008. We had to research and choose a new design, and in many cases new images, allocate new isbns, devise a marketing campaign, and talk to the retailers about promotions.

We wanted a new look that would be fresh and contemporary and appeal to general readers and browsers who might previously have thought Oxford World’s Classics were a bit too academic for them. So we have a clean white title panel, and white back and spine, and we have chosen dramatic crops of appropriateillustrations to intrigue and entice the reader. We also wanted a sense of continuity with the old look, so we have retained a red strip at the top of the spine and back cover, and added a tantalizing detail from the cover image in a small thumbnail on the spine (older readers may remember that we used to have a similar feature on a previous incarnation of the series, but at the bottom of the spine, not the top). We also chose a new typeface for the cover, Capitolium, a modern take on classic lettering, based on classical Roman inscriptions and Renaissance calligraphy and designed by Gerard Unger. The insides of the books are unchanged, and we will continue to publish high-quality editions and translations with outstanding introductions and notes at truly affordable prices, editions that are designed to satisfy the needs not just of students, but of the lively general reader as well.

As a way of introducing new readers to the list we have created some collections under the ‘More than Words’ banner. Themes such as Desire, Dream, Escape, and Believe gather familiar as well as unexpected titles as a way of inviting readers to approach books from a new direction, to find connections with works that chime with their own tastes and current interests. Look out for the themed collections in the bookshops from this month.

At the London Book Fair seminar yesterday, John Mullan, Margaret Reynolds and myself, under the lively chairmanship of David Freeman, took part in a discussion about editing the classics and the ways in which different books and markets call for a variety of editorial approaches. This month’s new publications demonstrate this variety at work, with new translations of Montesquieu’s Persian Letters and the Mabinogion, new editions of Anne Brontë’s Tenant of Wildfell Hall and Leonardo da Vinci’s Notebooks, and a fascinating new anthology of Gandhi’s Essential Writings. Relaunching OWC has been an exhilarating ride, with plenty of highs - and the occasional low - and I am looking forward to seeing the rest of the series roll out in new covers in the course of the coming year.