Moreover, PPC had its volunteer agents around the world, and they did a
lot to sell books as well as deal with PPC matters. Philip and Mary Hyman,
in Paris, were the pioneers here, quickly followed by Barbara Santich in
Australia, Birgit Siesby in Denmark and Cathy Saltman in the Netherlands.
Some remarkable feats were carried out in recruiting subscribers to PPC.
Barbara for a time held the number of Australian subscribers at well over 100.
Birgit exercised iron discipline in Scandinavia, and there were occasions when
subscribers she had recruited confessed to us that they found PPC too difficult
and were not resubscribing - 'but please do not tell Birgit' they would say.
We were also to be envied for the relationship we had with the University
Press of Virginia in the USA. So long as the late Walker Cowan was alive
and in charge of it, they distributed our books for us in North America on
terms which were very favourable to us and in quantities which were really
impressive; I recall one period when they were sending us the equivalent of
around £10,000 a year. Moreover, they conducted all their transactions with
traditional Southern courtesy, came to see us in London, and made us most
welcome when we went to see them in Charlottesburg. After Walker
Cowan's death the arrangements had to be terminated; and we never found
anything remotely as good to take their place.
Apart from these plus factors, we also enjoyed the benefits (as well as suffering the penalties) of being highly specialised. We were consistently
successful with specialist cookbook shops (and mail order dealers). They
would reorder and reorder. If we had the best book on a given subject - and
we had perhaps a dozen books which clearly deserved that description - or
was and would probably remain the only book of its kind (our half dozen or
so facsimile reprints) - the potential life of the book would be, one might
almost say, infinite. And the larger London bookshops, plus one or two
exceptionally good small ones (Heywood Hill, John Sandoe), were good
about stocking titles from our backlist, as well as the few new ones we
produced each year.
The 'few new ones'. One might say 'very few'. Even in the mid 1980s,
when we were at our most active, we only averaged about four; and that
figure included the annual volume of Oxford Symposium Proceedings,
whose format really precluded its being stocked by any general bookshop.
However, we planned our print runs on the basis that all our titles were
books of lasting interest and that we therefore wanted them to remain in
print for five to ten years; so our backlist was strong.
The fact that we could maintain this strong backlist without overcommitting
our slender financial resources was the result of sympathetic and practical
advice from Ken Smith of Smith Settle, our printers for the last twelve
years. It was he who explained that while it was an economy to print, say,
all 2,000 copies of a book in one go, it was equally an economy to bind
initially only enough for a year or two, leaving the rest in 'flat sheets' or
'book blocks' until they were actually needed. And he, in his 'Dutch uncle'
role, explained to us many other things, which a normal printer, or one less
interested in the quality of his product, would have left us to find out for
ourselves or not at all.