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Old 08-12-2005, 08:41 AM   #1
ktinkel
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Default Orwell on Penguins (1936)

From an academic web site on The Paperback Revolution I found this quotation from George Orwell on the rise of Penguin books:
The 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. It is, of course, a great mistake to imagine that cheap books are good for the book trade. Actually it is just the other way about. If you have, for instance, five shillings to spend and the normal price of a book is half-a-crown, you are quite likely to spend your whole five shillings on two books. But if books are sixpence each you are not going to buy ten of them, because you don't want as many as ten; your saturation-point will have been reached long before that ... Hence the cheaper books become, the less money is spent on books. This is an advantage from the reader's point of view and doesn't hurt trade as a whole, but for the publisher, the compositor, the author and the bookseller it is a disaster ...

In my capacity as reader I applaud the Penguin Books; in my capacity as writer I pronounce them anathema. Hutchinson are now bringing out a very similar edition, though only of their own books, and if the other publishers follow suit the result may be a flood of cheap reprints which will cripple the lending libraries (the novelist's foster-mother) 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.

Orwell wrote it for the New English Weekly (March 5, 1936) as quoted in Hans Schmoller, The Paperback Revolution.

The site includes other interesting comments on the emergence of Penguin books “and the ensuing debate” as well.

   
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