start-up focus

Whoever said you can't judge a book by its cover hasn't read up on the odyssey of a young publishing company in Salt Lake City called Compact Classics. In 1991 Compact Classics released its first title, a collection of 130 two-page summaries of all-time must-reads ranging from Beowulf to The One-Minute Manager. The anthology was titled Compact Classics. "We thought it was catchy," says marketing spokesperson JoAnn Mitchell. Not catchy enough, apparently -- and in retrospect Mitchell thinks the burgundy book cover decorated with the faces of George Washington and William Shakespeare probably didn't help. After a little more than a year of lackluster sales, the company founders held a brainstorming meeting and acted on one of the zanier collective suggestions: they renamed their tome The Great American Bathroom Book: Single-Sitting Summaries of All-Time Great Books and gave it a new white cover. The makeover worked: the initial printing of 5,000 books sold out in six weeks, and to date Compact Classics reports selling more than 600,000 copies of its bathroom bible. The company still publishes the original title for readers who are offended by the scatological, but the bathroom version outsells its more staid predecessor 100 to one, says marketing vice-president Bryce Berry.

-- Alessandra Bianchi

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