The Next Big Thing
The first Penguin paperbacks appeared in the summer of 1935 and were a mix of biography, crime writing and novels. Ernest Hemingway, Eric Linklater and Agatha Christie were all contributors. At the time, their books cost about the same price as a pack of cigarettes. But within twelve months, Penguin had sold a staggering three million of the paperbacks, but was viewed with a certain amount of suspicion and uncertainty by traditional publishers. Even their hardback fiction sold at low prices, and it was feared that the new cheaper paperbacks might undermine the market. Some authors were also unsettled by what the advent of Penguin might bring to the future publishing market, so much so that they chose to step away from the publisher altogether.
That was then.
After undergoing a recent reshaping of both the corporate infrastructure and creative plans, Penguin is once again launching the next in its adventurous history. In September, the company will debut its latest e-book publishing program that includes over 200 e-titles converted from the traditional Penguin pantheon. The e-books—available under the name "ePenguin"—will include, Jane Austen's Emma, English Passengers by Matthew Kneale, The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin and Bill Gates' Business @ the Speed of Thought. The publisher will also focus on the teen and children's market, an especially strong target demographic for e-books, according to Penguin.
The publisher's U.K.-based office will be the primary retail outlet for the ePenguin venture. International consumers will be able to purchase and download titles directly from the Penguin Website onto desktops, laptops and eventually handheld computers. ePenguins will also be available for download from selected online retailers, says the publisher, using Adobe eBook Reader or Microsoft Reader for PC-based applications.
And while suspicion of Penguin's latest project is not nearly as contemptuous as Animal Farm author George Orwell's one-time 20th century criticism: "In my capacity as a reader I applaud the Penguin Books; in my capacity as a writer I pronounce them anathema. Hutchinsons are now bringing out a very similar edition, though only of their own books, and if other publishers follow suit, the result may be a flood of cheap reprints which will cripple the lending libraries and check the output of new novels. This would be a fine thing for literature, but it would be a very bad thing for trade, and when you have to choose between art and money—well, finish it for yourself," the future of e-books is yet to be forecast, though many other companies are joining Penguin in its mission to digitize and predict.