FROM THE PULPIT
J EREMY L EWIS COVER STORY
sub-leased paperback rights all agreed that Penguin had to move with the times: but, as far as I could discover when researching my biography of Allen Lane, the authors themselves were not consulted,
A NOBSESSIONWITH image and corporate logos long predates designer labels and the global marketplace. Back in the 1930s firms like Shell and Guinness were nimble practitioners of ‘branding’, as were go-ahead publishers – so much so that books and authors sometimes seemed to play second fiddle to the promotion of their publishers, with the list in general being exalted at the expense of its particular components. Victor Gollancz, the most bombastic and self-promoting publisher of his time, dressed his books in the uniform typographical jackets designed by Stanley Morison in memorable if lurid hues of magenta, black and yellow: and contributors to his hugely influential Left Book Club were expected to subsume their identities into what was, in effect, a corporate image. Much the same applied to those authors published by Allen Lane at Penguin Books, founded in 1935. After a secretary had suggested a name for the new firm, Edward Young was sent off to the penguin house at the Zoo to draw what was to become the most famous of all publishing logos. Back in the office, he laid out the famous horizontal bands (orange for fiction, green for crime, pale blue for non-fiction Pelicans), and although the great typographer Jan Tschichold slimmed down Young’s bulbous bird and refined his layout, while his successor, Hans Schmoller, substituted vertical for horizontal bands, one Penguin book continued to look like another, irrespective of the fame or grandeur of its author. Penguins were instantly identifiable not just from their jackets, but in terms of layout, title pages and design, all tailored to the contents of the book yet recognisably the same; and the same applied to those publishers – like Wren Howard at Jonathan Cape, or Richard de la Mare at Faber – who shared Lane’s perfectionism and his desire to create a ‘brand image’. Nowadays the prevailing orthodoxy has it that book jackets should be individually designed to reflect the contents and the market for each particular book, and that although it makes sense to provide authors with a distinctive ‘look’, the publishers themselves are of little interest to the book-buying public: even within the Penguin Group, orange spines have long been abandoned, and only the bird remains as a symbol of corporate identity. Lane himself was devoted to his austere lettering jackets, but by the 1960s he had had to give way and allow fullcolour picture jackets. Rival paperback publishers – Pan, Fontana and the rest – had long espoused picture jackets, and were outselling Penguin as a result; hardback publishers were setting up paperback lists of their own, and retaining the rights in authors whom Penguin had long regarded as part of their birthright; booksellers were happy to display some papaerbacks face-out, but saw no point in doing so with a Penguin typographical jacket. Salesmen, booksellers and the hardback publishers who
though Saul Bellow, John Masters, Anthony Powell and Graham Greene were among those who objected to the jackets provided for them by Tony Godwin in the 1960s. Ten years later, Greene was on the warpath once again: in Penguin by Designers, a fascinating and beautiful collection of Penguin jackets recently published by the Penguin Collectors’ Society, the designer Derek Birdsall reveals how Greene rang to say that he wanted plain typographical jackets for his paperbacks, equivalent to the marvellous lettering jackets provided for his hardbacks by John Ryder and Michael Harvey at The Bodley Head. Penguin agreed, but sales slumped and Paul Hogarth’s drawings were hurriedly restored to the covers of Greene’s books. I suspect that – like Greene – authors often have more austere and conservative tastes than publishers and booksellers, let alone the all-important buyers in chains and supermarkets, and that they like being published by firms with a strong visual as well as literary identity: still more so if, like Penguin in Lane’s era, or Faber in the days of Berthold Wolpe (his Albertus lettering jackets remain the most beautiful of all), or Cape in the Sixties and Seventies, they are thought to be synonymous with both stylishness and quality. A degree of visual anonymity is made up for by a sense of being part of a larger enterprise, of being propped up by one’s fellow authors and enjoying a reflected glory from the more distinguished names on the list. And, of course, a uniform look, particularly if well done, appeals to those who collect books as much for their looks as their content. Penguins were collected from the earliest days, as were the green-covered Viragos and, more recently, Nicola Beauman’s grey-coated Persephone Books, the elegance and austerity of which are reminiscent of early Penguins. So too, I suspect, were Tom Maschler’s marvellous but long-forgotten paperback series of Cape Editions: the books themselves were, for the most part, unreadable, unread and mercifully short – Roland Barthes and Eldridge Cleaver are among the names I remember – but they looked so good that wouldbe trend-setters found them hard to resist. Some publishers – Hodder most obviously comes to mind – have never shown much interest in producing distinctive or attractively designed books, but have never had any problems in attracting best-selling authors to their list; and yet for many writers the ‘look’ and ‘image’ of a prospective publisher matters almost as much as an advance or a sympathetic editor when deciding where to place a book. Balancing the demands of author and publisher, content and the marketplace is a far more complicated business than it was back in the 1930s, when branding and corporate images prevailed.
LITERARY REVIEW June 2007