Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Who's Picked Up a Penguin?

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Who's Picked Up a Penguin?

Article excerpt

In the mid-1930s, George Orwell wrote that "the Penguin Books are splendid value for sixpence. So splendid that if other publishers had any sense they would combine against them and suppress them."

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Of course, other publishers never did manage to suppress Allen Lane's colour-coded paperbacks (orange for fiction, blue for biography, green for crime). After the first ten Penguins appeared in 1935 under the Bodley Head imprint, and sold in their tens of thousands, Lane never looked back. Penguin was established as a separate company the following year and by the time Lane died in 1970, it was, in the words of his biographer, "an institution of national importance, like the Times or the BBC".

That's the reason there has been such an anguished reaction, to the news that Penguin's parent I company, Pearson, has agreed a deal with the German conglomerate Bertelsmann in which the publisher will merge with Random House (reuniting it in the process, incidentally, with the Bodley Head).

The new entity will be known as "Penguin Random House"--not, as every man and his dog on Twitter had hoped, "Random Penguin"--and according to a Pearson press statement, it will be "the world's leading consumer publishing organisation". Bertelsmann will own 53 per cent, Pearson 47 per cent.

Brand and deliver

Philip Jones, editor of the industry bible the Bookseller, thinks Pearson has got a good deal (it will retain the right to use the Penguin brand in its education publishing arm). …

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