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.