Book publisher Penguin’s Darwinian approach to developing its business in a sector steadfastly regarded as traditional has put it at the forefront of digital innovation.
Its latest project is a tie-up with online dating agency Match.com to launch a dating service aimed at book lovers. The website will be supported by a marketing campaign with ads on the website, in newsletters and on the back pages of over 2 million of Penguin’s most popular fiction titles.
The partnership aims to widen the appeal of online dating while encouraging participants to talk more about books and literature by offering book lovers “a place to restore the importance of the written word in courtship”.
It is not the first time the Pearson Group-owned publisher has attempted to expand its target market and outline its relevancy in a digital world. Previous projects have included social networking initiatives and online writing projects, as well as offering readers the chance to design and buy their own book covers.
Such activities have led industry commentators to commend Penguin for having a strong voice amid competition from bigger and arguably stronger brands.
Bartle Bogle Hegarty head of engagement planning Jason Gonsalves is one such admirer. “Penguin is every bit as innovative as Nike, which is at the forefront digitally,” he says. “Its use of digital opportunities to take it in new directions makes it unique in the world of publishing.”
Wide world of words
Match.com managing director Jason Stockwood talks of the obvious connection between literature and the Web.
“People are becoming more familiar with using the Web in general. They want to talk about literature and it nurtures those communities,” he adds.
Some suggest Penguin’s foray into digital ahead of rivals goes back to its roots as an imprint aimed squarely at the mass market. Allen Lane founded Penguin in 1935 to make paperbacks plentifully available and “for the cost of a packet of fags”.
Gonsalves says the brand has “constantly innovated” and thinks about how to connect books with people.
Penguin digital marketing director Anna Rafferty claims that innovation is an “explicit” core company value. “Publishing is about being brave and that translates all through the business,” she adds. “We think of ourselves as an entertainment company rather than just another publisher.”
Rafferty says social networking has allowed the publisher to reach new audiences. It partnered with MySpace earlier this year to hold a competition for users to compose a theme tune to play on the latest James Bond audio book, reaching not only new readers but also musicians.
Last year, penguin partnered with social networking site Piczo to attract more teenage readers. The site allowed readers to design their own book covers and personalise them using digital tools designed by the social network.
Story of success
In a further innovative push, it also began a literary experiment with De Montford University last year. Based on the principles of online encyclopedia Wikipedia, an online novel called A Million Penguins was open to anyone to write and edit.
Gonsalves adds: “It’s like survival of the fittest – those with the most potential to change will lead. It’s ironic that a book publisher – which is traditional media – is leading in this area.”