This Is How You Sell Books In The Digital Age

Penguin Books unveils a clever interactive site, inspired by the iPod’s clicking wheel, to accompany the release of 80 classic e-books.

Penguin Books turns 80 this year. To celebrate its birthday, the British imprint of the world’s largest publishing house is releasing a new series of 80 books, entitled Little Black Classics, to be sold for just $1 each on Kindle and as paperbacks.


To introduce Little Black Classics, freelance designer Mathieu Triay created a clever and addictive interactive website. It’s designed like a black-and-white wheel of fortune. Drag a little penguin around the 80 notches of the circle to explore the series’ titles and quotes from each book; or click the penguin to spin the wheel. The idea is to help you discover and learn about new books, or delight in the prose of ones you might already know.

The site is a rare example of an old-school publishing house using savvy web design to stay current. “The publishing industry is still very much holding back on their digital play,” Triay writes in an email. “For that reason, there’s still a lot of space to innovate. What inspired the website is exactly the fact that publishing houses aren’t known for trying new things.” Penguin has set out to change that.

The “Spin a Penguin” idea came from Penguin community manager Claudia Toia, who wanted the 80th-anniversary campaign to have a digital component. “The intent was to have a website which would promote discovery and interaction with a focus on serendipity, rather than a hard selling tool,” Triay says. The brief: “How do you make an interface where you can browse all 80 titles but also surprise yourself?”

In designing the circular interface, Triay took inspiration from the iPod’s clicking wheel. “It’s very efficient to select a particular track but also to get a ‘random’ one by spinning fast. Keeping that in mind helped to discard a lot of ideas.” Shaking your phone or spinning the penguin gives you a random title or quote.

Out of context, these quotes thrown together make for a strange literary smorgasbord: highlights include Nietzsche’s thoughts on becoming a “proficient hater”; threats from a Viking Saga (“into two I’ll slice the hair-seat of Helga’s kiss-gulper”); Mary Kingsley’s observations of a hippo banquet; and wisdom from the Dhammapada.

Go here to play around with the Little Black Classics website.


About the author

Carey Dunne is a Brooklyn-based writer covering art and design. Follow her on Twitter.