I just received a lovely edition of George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London in the mail. It’s part of a series of Orwell classics that Penguin rereleased with beautiful covers designed by David Pearson. 1984 certainly wins the creativity price with a plain cover and blacked-out title. That said, I really love the detail of Down and Out.
Not long ago, I refused to buy Penguin books. The quality was just complete crap. Which is ironic, considering the company’s history. Sir Allen Lane started Penguin precisely because he disliked the poor quality of paperbacks found at his local train station. So, he began publishing well-designed books of literature for the masses. As the company grew into a global publishing powerhouse, profitability became the sole objective and graphic design was considered an unnecessary expense. As soon as head designer Germano Facetti left the company in 1971, quality just went to hell. I’m not entirely sure what happened, but it looks like they are finally returning back to their roots. Over the past few months, Penguin came out with a whole bunch of amazingly designed books. I mean, Down and Out has a letterpress cover!
Now, there’s an important point to this story. Publishers are constantly freaking out because they still don’t know how to deal with digital. Will print die? I don’t think so. People will always love the tactile experience of reading a book. But here’s the thing: Digital will be a commodity while print will be a luxury. Just look at vinyl. LP sales have increased by 17.7% last year and most of the buyers are millennials. You consume everyday music streaming, but when you really really like a record, you will buy the vinyl. Same holds true for books. Once you saw the cover for Murakami’s 1Q84, you just had to hold it in your hands. You just had to own it. People just had to see you with that book! Publishers can survive the future, but they won’t do so by competing with digital. Instead, they must focus on stuff that digital cannot offer. In the end, hiring an amazing graphic designer might just be the key to profitability.