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Penguin book innovates in publishing...again

Penguin's new foray into iPad "books" is not the first time in its 75 year history where it has embraced radical innovation. In fact the company was founded on it.

Penguin, the fabled English publisher, is plunging head first into the world of iPad content. Not iPad books, exactly, as these things are not recognizable as books in the normal sense--they are closer to games and full-fledged apps. Even in the case where they are adapting existing print books, there is enough new stuff going on where it diverges significantly from what we normally think of as "book". A Kindle e-book, these are not. Check out the video above for an intriguing peep into what they have planned.

Dan Nosowitz at Fast Company observes:

[P]enguin doesn't even think these things are books. I know that because Penguin intends to sell this digital content in the app store, as individual apps, not in the iBooks bookstore. There's nothing wrong with that--these apps look great, and the prospect of enriching the definition of "book" is exciting--but as companies take advantage of the iPad, the publishing industry is going to have to expand in ways we don't quite understand yet.

This is actually not the first time that Penguin has taken such a radical view of books. In fact, the company was founded 75 years ago on an innovative approach to book publishing and distribution. I talk about it in my own book, as it is a terrific early example of disruptive innovation.

Penguin Books came into existence because of a realization on a train platform. Penguin’s founder, Allen Lane, was returning from a weekend with the famous mystery writer Agatha Christie, and looked in the train station’s book stall for something to read on his journey back to London. Finding only popular magazines and poor-quality, luridly written novels, he wondered why there was not anything for the reader who wanted some good-quality fiction at a low price.

Penguin Books began with a range of biography, crime-writing, and novels, all by contemporary authors and selling for a fifteenth of what hardback books usually sold for. Within a year, Penguin sold three million paperbacks by satisfying a need that traditional book publishers saw as off-limits. They were focused on a more upscale category, and assumed readers were warmly ensconced in a drawing room with plenty of time to spare.

Penguin even experimented with a purpose-built dispensing machine for train stations, wonderfully named the Penguincubator (since penguins lay eggs), which, sadly, seems lost to the mists of time.