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The Penguincubator: The Future of Books Circa 1935


Publishing Perspectives ran an interesting essay by James Bridle the other day about the publisher Allen Lane, who, in 1934, brought the paperback to the masses. Additionally, he invented the machine you see above, called the Penguincubator, a vending machine for paperback books.

Here’s an excerpt: In the Penguincubator we see several desires converge: affordable books, non-traditional distribution, awareness of context, and a quiet radicalism. And it’s not a huge leap of the imagination to see how these apply now. I see the same bored gaze on the bus and tube today, as people reflexively flip open their phones and start poking at email or casual games, as Allen Lane saw on the platform at Exeter in 1933. And slowly–oh, so slowly–publishers are seeing that what we are presented with is not the death of everything we trust, value and hold dear, but a similar widening vista of opportunity to that which arrived with the mass-market paperback.”

It’s impossible not to see this machine and think of today’s Espresso Book Machine, the instant POD printer already housed in some book stores. It’s also impossible not to note, as Publishing Perspectives does, that this kind of alternative distribution method put booksellers on edge, as eBooks and POD books are doing now. Of course, Lane’s paperbacks also expanded the reach of the book business considerably…

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