Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Penguin Books story laid bare (even the naked board meetings)

Allen Lane, while knighted for services to literature, was never much of a reader. Were brothers Richard and John written out of their own bestselling story?

Allen, Richard and John Lane, founders of Penguin Books.
Allen, Richard and John Lane, cofounders of Penguin Books. Photograph: Lane Family Archive/Black Inc
Eighty years ago, three brothers – Allen, Richard and John Lane – founded Penguin Books in London. The brothers planned the venture in brainstorming sessions that usually took place in the bathroom of their Talbot Square flat. Their goal was ambitious: to publish the best of modern literature on a massive scale and at a democratically low price.
At sixpence each, the books were tailor-made for Woolworths department stores. George Orwell immediately saw the disruptive potential. “Penguin books are splendid value for sixpence, so splendid that if the other publishers had any sense they would combine against them and suppress them.”

The reaction of the reading public, though, was enthusiastic and emphatic. Within four days of the launch, 150,000 Penguins had been sold. Within four months, sales reached one million. In 1946, the firm would sell its hundred millionth book.

No comments: