With e-books all the rage and paperback books available on every bookseller’s website and in every brick-and-mortar bookshop, it can be hard to envision a world where paperback books are a novelty and not a standard. But, before the 1930s, almost all books were pricey hardbacks.
The Paperback Revolution
That all changed on this day in 1935 when Penguin Books published their first paperback, kickstarting the paperback revolution. Intentionally priced at a mere sixpence per book, Penguin Books brought premier literature and non-fiction to the public.
Prior to Penguin Books’ revolutionary decision to mass market paperback books in high quality, softcover books held a reputation as salacious, back-alley reading. Penguin Books set itself apart from these poor quality, lurid novels by avoiding the scandalous cover art and gaudy illustrations, opting instead for a clean and serious aesthetic for its paperback books. A simple color palette indicated the contents of the books — green for crime, orange for fiction and deep blue for biography. Naturally, as the paperback revolution spread, these colors swiftly expanded as the contents of the books did as well.
By making literature and non-fiction accessible to a broader demographic, Penguin Books was able to show that there was, in fact, a large audience for quality reading material. The accessibility of the Penguin Paperbacks set off a reading revolution, allowing more people to access classic literature than had been able to previously.
Now, almost a century later, Penguin Books is still synonymous with quality literature. Their paperbacks are still printing away. While the next revolution in books might be e-books, Penguin Books appears primed and ready for the future of books, already publishing many of its titles in electronic format. What will come next for Penguin Books? Only time will tell, but book lovers everywhere owe Penguin Books a debt of gratitude.