Cheap, easy to make, and easier to sell, these tiny wonders are revolutionizing the book industry

By Clarissa Cruz
June 18, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT

They may look teensy, but miniature books are big business. Featuring every imaginable title, from Silver Palate Desserts to Jennifer Love Hewitt, the palm-size, picture-happy tomes are the perfect antidote for readers weary of slogging through their heftier counterparts. And rather than bemoaning the dwindling American attention span, publishers are cashing in on the trend: More than 59 million minis have been sold since 1989, and the, uh, big players — Andrews McMeel, Running Press, and Peter Pauper Press — couldn’t be happier.

”People absolutely love sound bites,” says Running Press’ Justin Loeber, who estimates the literary Lilliputians run about 5,000 to 15,000 words each. ”For example, you can take our Dating for Dummies mini, slip it into your pocket, and refer to it while you’re on your date. It’s almost like having a breath mint.”

A very affordable breath mint at that. Available for less than six bucks and displayed at impulse-buy central next to the cash register, minis straddle the line between sentiment and commerce — despite a reputation for being merely superficial, abbreviated versions of full-size tomes. ”They’re more significant than a greeting card,” says Evelyn Beilenson at Peter Pauper, who nonetheless concedes that most of the books are on the fluffy side.

The minis’ touchy-feely exteriors notwithstanding, publishers aren’t shy about trouncing their competitors. Running Press trademarked its size dimensions to prevent rivals from fitting into its displays. (”A lot of people were ripping us off,” sniffs Loeber.) Meanwhile, Andrews McMeel can crash its popular celebrity primers into print after a mere three months. (Running Press averages two years.) And Peter Pauper attaches gold-plated bookmark charms to its products.

”There’s a lot of competition out there, so you’ve got to make a statement,” explains Beilenson.

But try to keep it short.