Books, the idea, cont’d: Vending machine fodder

Posted by Rob Walker on May 3, 2010
Posted Under: Olde News

Penguincubator. Click for more.

This made the rounds recently, I believe originating with this piece on Publishing Perspectives, about Allen Lane, best known for devising the first breakout success cheap-but-quality paperback, for Penguin. Evidently Lane also dreamed up the device above: The Penguincubator, a book vending machine from the mid 1930s.

First installed outside Henderson’s (the “Bomb Shop”) at 66 Charing Cross Road, [it] signaled [Lane’s] intention to take the book beyond the library and the traditional bookstore, into railway stations, chain stores and onto the streets. It is worth noting, given publishers’ frequent timidity in this area, that this really annoyed booksellers. (Lane’s lack of trepidation is an important part of this story; worth noting, too, that he was the first English publisher of James Joyce’s Ulysses, at the Bodley Head, despite the widespread contemporary fear of prosecution for obscenity.)

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.

I couldn’t find out much more — like the fate of this fascinating object — but there was another picture of it on Flickr, situated next to a “Bikini Automat.”

From Flickr user Mags. Click for more.

Further diversion may be found at MKTG Tumblr, and the Consumed Facebook page. Tags:

Reader Comments

Do you know about the book vending machines in Heathrow?

Written By Steve Portigal on May 4th, 2010 @ 11:29 am

I did not know about that! Great tip, thanks, will add it here shortly…

Written By Rob Walker on May 4th, 2010 @ 1:34 pm

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