P…P…P…Pick up a Penguin?

When you think of publishing brands the first to spring to mind is surely Penguin. It is the most iconic and one of the most successful British publishing brands of the past 70 years, who hasn’t read at least one Penguin published book?

Penguin revolutionised the publishing industry. It was founded in the 1930s by Sir Allan Lane, following a frustrating journey from Exeter station, which he could not find a good book to read. His driving idea was that proper literature should appeal to and be accessible to all and cost just as much as a packet of cigarettes. The publication of literature in paperback was then associated mainly with poor quality, lurid fiction and initially established names in the publishing industry where sceptical of Lane’s chances of success. However, with the purchase of 63,000 books by Woolworths the entire project was paid for in one go and Penguin has gone on to print millions of books for the UK and world market.

I love the idea behind the Penguin books the fact that almost overnight it revolutionised the publishing industry, bringing a wide range of reading material to the general public. Today it is the only major publisher to have a widely recognised consumer brand at all, the Penguin logo is instantly recognised by old and young alike.


Penguin books have always been instantly recognisable through their classic and simple designs; this has been a central part of the Penguin books appeal their mantra being “good design is no more expensive then bad”. This founding philosophy also provided a boost to the emerging UK graphic design industry.

All this aside the publishing industry has changed dramatically over the past decade, Penguins merger with Random House reflects this. It is in response to an increasingly challenging market, one which is dominated by online retailers. Amazon dominates the UK digital publishing market with profits of over £3.3bn, and is reported to sell 90% of all e-books in the UK, and 70% worldwide, via its Kindle reader. Physical book sales are down 0.4 per cent year on year while digital fiction is currently up 188 per cent, leaving bookshops and traditional publishers struggling to keep up with the pace of digital change. Amazon currently sells 14 e-books for every 1 published book.

It is as yet unclear what this merger will mean for the UK publishing industry or what will happen to the iconic British brand in the long term. I for one would be sad to see Penguin completely disappear. And it seems industry insiders are just as unsure of the long term outcomes for both the UK and global publishing industries.  While combining resources will provide both Penguin and Random House with greater resources to invest in digital publishing and a platform for selling books directly to consumers, it’s still not clear is this will be enough to ensure long term survival. Other major publishers will seek further mergers, further consolidation is expected and many are predicting that the big six publishers will eventually be reduced to just two. 

The publishing industry remains a dynamic and interesting space and I for one hope these changes give it a boost in the right direction to ensure long term success. 


Slogan vs. brand promise

A funny thing happened the other day. After a roguish water bottle exploded in my bag, my work diary was looking less than smart, so I ordered a mid-year A5 black day-to-a-page diary on Amazon. I specifically wanted a black one – always slick and classic.

A few working days later and I receive my package on time and unwrap it, eager to write my first to-do list on the fresh, new pages. Organisation Central, here I come!

To my dismay and, frankly, annoyance, this is what I was greeted with:


Yup, it’s red. And by way of explanation? A carefully written Post-It note: “Sorry. Red only.”

Well, sorry Amazon seller, but I didn’t want a red one; if I had, I would have ordered a red one! I felt like scrawling underneath: “Sorry. Only ordered black” and sending it back.  But that in itself is an annoyance; now I have to re-wrap it and make an unplanned trip to the Post Office. All they needed to do was send me an email to let me know.

Amazon has a brilliant reputation but this was not good form from one of its ‘trusted’ sellers. It got me thinking about brand promise and expectation, so I checked to see what Amazon’s slogan is on the website, ready to tear it apart with my recent poor customer service experience. After all, a brand is only truly successful if it delivers on its promise all the way through the consumer experience.

But Amazon has no slogan to tear apart. Interesting; I hadn’t realised that before. I guess, when you’re as big as Amazon and everyone knows who you are and what you do (normally very well, I might add), do you need a slogan at all? Google, Starbucks and Virgin clearly don’t think so.

Is not having a slogan a cop out? Arguably it is one way of not having to live up to a very high expectation, which if a brand (inevitably) doesn’t reach every time, might “undershoot and sully” its reputation, as Helen Edwards asks in her recent Marketing magazine column. Maybe, but she goes on to make the important point that, “It is more subtle than that. You can bet that a great brand like Google, with smart marketers on board and skilled agencies alongside, could devise a stunning sign-off if it chose to”.

Whether a brand chooses to have a slogan or not, one thing’s for sure – actions speak louder than words. On that note, I wish Nike did diaries, JUST in black.