Dispatches from the Digital Revolution

Postcards from publishing’s past









My favorite Christmas present this year was hands down one of the most simple, inexpensive, and endearing—a box of 100 postcards featuring some of Penguin’s most iconic paperback covers.

Intended to evoke the nostalgia many readers have for Penguin’s historically distinct cover designs and the roles they played in the paperback revolution, the postcards highlight the original design of colored horizontal stripes that adorned the first editions of novels such as Wuthering Heights and The Great Gatsby.

Yet they also emphasize the evolution of Penguin’s paperback design, as covers throughout the decades became illustrative and emblematic of a decade’s pop art. A bibliophile and publishing graduate student such as myself could not ask for a more appropriate gift—as I write this I can’t help but envision the ever so clever and eclectic collage I can make out of my favorite books.

But I also can’t help pondering this marketing scheme. Postcards from Penguin represent only one of the publisher’s recent attempts, through merchandise, to reassert the hold its books have on the heartstrings of several generations. Also available through Penguin are mini notebooks featuring original cover designs, as well as similarly designed totes, key rings, mugs, travel pouches, pencils, and journals. Beautifully crafted Penguin hardcover editions of classic titles have also become popular in recent years.

In this digital age, where bets are continually placed on the book’s imminent demise, should we pay any particular attention to such marketing efforts? Do they represent a genius attempt on part of Penguin to remind us of the special place books have in our lives? Or are they last-ditch efforts to create a connection between the books we love and the physical form they have long taken? Even if such trinkets serve as passing reminders of the physical book, are they anything more than a nostalgic memento?


This entry was posted on December 29, 2011 by in Culture and tagged , , .

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