On this day July 30, in 1935 Penguin published the very first paperback books, bringing the likes of Ernest Hemingway, André Maurois and Agatha Christie to the masses.
Some of the finest literature in the world was being produced but in was inaccessible and unaffordable to the majority.
In 1934, Allen Lane, then with publisher The Bodley Head, had spent the weekend at the country estate of Agatha Christie, stopped at the station bookstall at Exeter St Davids and saw that the books on sale were of a poor quality and overpriced. What was needed, he realised, were good books at a price everyone could afford.
Within a year he had founded Penguin Books, creating a paperback revolution that would sweep the world. At the time, this was revolutionary. On a mission to make good quality books affordable and accessible to all, Sir Allen Lane arguably propelled the profile of reading and made it a pastime that everyone, regardless of their background, could enjoy.
The original 10 Penguin paperbacks released 86 years ago today went for sixpence each. They were a sensation. During its first year, Penguin sold 3 million paperbacks in a country with a population of about 38 million. The first books were colour-coded: orange for fiction, blue for biography and green for crime
Fast forward to present day and Nielsen BookScan estimated a 6% increase in the volume of books bought in 2020. With 375 million books bought, it's the highest total on record.
Although print did grow by 2% in volume terms, it was actually the digital formats driving the record-breaking stats with double digit growth for both eBooks and audio.
However paperbacks remain a critical part of book buyers lives today. According to Nielsen BookScan, 48% of books bought in 2020 were paperbacks. Hardbacks being 17%, other print 4%, eBooks 25% and audiobooks 6%.
So, all hail the paperback, and thank you to Sir Allen Lane for bringing books to the masses. We are very grateful.