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Consolidating Penguin Books


Tackling Penguin's notion of conformity
Peter Mayer Publisher
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There were some art directors who had come to Penguin to fit into the Penguin notion of uniformity and conformity. And there [were] the green Penguins, they were mysteries, and the purple Penguins, they were, I think, travel.

[Q] That’s right – green Agatha Christie, orange for George Orwell. Lady Chatterley’s Lover…

That would have been orange, I think. Yes. But... and they were very arcane discussions that took place, whether it should be orange or green or blue, or whatever colour. It... I mean, it was... there was an aspect of priesthood to it. It was all a celebration of Penguin, but not of the author and not of the reader. And that’s what I tried to do. And, of course, I was attacked for being very commercial and very American. But actually, what I was was a publisher, and a publisher is someone who wants to find readers for his books. He believes in his books and he wants not only to sell them to make money out of them, he wants to be validated. Penguin wanted to be validated for itself, and much of that we retained, but not entirely. And I think the change was very important.

Peter Mayer (1936-2018) was an American independent publisher who was president of The Overlook Press/Peter Mayer Publishers, Inc, a New York-based publishing company he founded with his father in 1971. At the time of Overlook's founding, Mayer was head of Avon Books, a large New York-based paperback publisher. There, he successfully launched the trade paperback as a viable alternative to mass market and hardcover formats. From 1978 to 1996 he was CEO of Penguin Books, where he introduced a flexible style in editorial, marketing, and production. More recently, Mayer had financially revived both Ardis, a publisher of Russian literature in English, and Duckworth, an independent publishing house in the UK.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: Penguin Books

Duration: 1 minute, 40 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2014-January 2015

Date story went live: 12 November 2015