Through the DTI, John recently engaged the services of a marketing consultant, Richard Williams. His comprehensive work shows that there is a real opening in the market for Flexiback Books. The market research has shown that people will buy Flexibacks, especially if they are on sale in newsagents, for example, rather than traditional bookselling outlets.The format was to publish a 40-55,000-word book in a 64-page magazine format, A4-sized with the text in two columns and heavily illustrated—a maximum of 24 pages of illustrations distributed throughout the text.
A lot of useful, positive information was also gathered by a team of volunteers armed with a market research questionnaire. The idea behind this was to find out what the public thought about Flexibacks. The response was good.
There were to be four broad areas covered by Flexibooks: Thriller/Crime, Romance/Historical, Science Fiction/Fantasy and Action/Adventure. There would be two titles a month, with categories alternating. Month one would see one crime and one romance title, whilst science fiction and action would make up the output for month two. Month three would then see the return of crime and romance.
Even as Flexiback Books was announced in October 1993, Youe was still meeting potential distributors and had had several meetings with W. H. Smith; he was also looking to raise capital and potential authors were told:
It is only fair to say at this stage that no payment can be made until the project is financed. Until then, you must appreciate that although you are contributing to the likely success of the project there is no guarantee. Capital is essential to our success.Despite the lack of finance, a couple of notable names had been attracted to help put together a group of dummy books: John Grant (Paul Barnett) was (and still is) a well known SF author and Ron Tiner, who was working as an illustrator, having drawn a variety of comics in the 1970s and 1980s. Both were based in Exeter, Devon, and would subsequently collaborate on The Encyclopedia of Fantasy & Science Fiction Art Techniques (1996). John was also the co-editor of The Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) which I was a contributor to. Ron, meanwhile, was an occasional contributor to Comic World where he wrote a Masterclass series on how to draw comics.
Flexiback Books never got beyond the planning stage. All that remains is the photo above of the first six planned "picture paper novellas" with their evocative titles and rather nice covers, mostly by Tiner.