Why Not Offer Literature Inexpensively?

I can’t help wondering what Penguin Books founder Allen Lane would think about the advent of digital publishing. Of e-books. Of vooks…

It’s one of the best stories in publishing: how Penguin Books began 75 years ago and became what is arguably the most recognized imprint and colophon in the world.

In 1935, Allen Lane was 32 and worked for The Bodley Head, which had been founded by his uncle. Returning from a weekend visiting Agatha Christie and her husband in the country, he had nothing to read and perused a railway bookstall. While looking at the dime novels, pulp fiction and expensive hardcovers, his little grey cells went to work, as Christie’s Hercule Poirot might put it, and he thought: Why not offer literature inexpensively?

Back at The Bodley Head, he proposed publishing high-quality books for six pence each, the equivalent of a pack of cigarettes. Many publishers thought such an approach would ruin the business, but The Bodley Head approved the plan.

The first major hurdle was finding a name. (Shelf Awareness)

In keeping with Lane’s logic, publishing in the digital age will once again recalibrate the cost of purchasing literature. Seventy five years after Penguin Books waddled on stage, which digital publisher is likely to become the “most recognized imprint and colophon in the world”?

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