London’s Persephone Books is a small independent literary publishing house based out of Lamb’s Conduit Street, deep in the cultural nexus of Bloomsbury close to the British Museum. The company’s range of high-quality paperbound modern classics is distinguished by thoughtful design and fine book crafting.
“We publish reprints of (mostly) women writers and have 102 books in print,” Nicola Beauman, founder of Persephone, told me. ”We sell mostly by mail order.” Persephone also distributes ten Persephone Classics “widely available in bookshops in the UK and the US,” according to its website, plus five audiobooks and “(so far) nine e-books.”
Persephone aims to produce “mainly neglected fiction and non-fiction by women, for women and about women. The titles are chosen to appeal to busy women who rarely have time to spend in ever-larger bookshops and who would like to have access to a list of books designed to be neither too literary nor too commercial.” The firm does not stick too narrowly to its defined focus, with titles such as “Amours de Voyage,” the long poem by the Victorian writer A. H. Clough, also on its list. (“Books by Men” have a section to themselves.)
The advent of e-publishing has not changed Persephone much, says Beauman. “The climate has not changed, because we are so niche.” The company produces its ebooks as EPUBs in opposition to Amazon’s proprietary Kindle standard, and quality and design are consistently good in print or digital format. “We try and have high production values,” Beauman adds. All ebook titles are sold at £8 ($12.40) each, or three for £21 ($32.50), and titles include “Dimanche and Other Stories” by the recently revived Russian French writer Irene Némirovsky, and “Little Boy Lost” by English novelist and media personality Marghanita Laski.
All the ebook covers also display Persephone’s focus on fabric designs (hidden within the grey covers of the print editions as endpapers) which very much reflect the company ethos. “Fabric design should be celebrated for its own sake; and because it is a field in which women designers have been particularly prominent we would like to use their work whenever possible,” declares the company website.