Penguin to Book Designer: Do a Bad Job


I just had to share this story courtesy of The Independent’s Friday Book Design Blog by Jonathon Gibbs because it made me both laugh out loud and cry a little on the inside. If there was ever a story that epitomizes what it can be like to work in publishing, this is it.

Be sure to read:

penguin classics cover designApparently, when he worked for Penguin, longtime cover designer David Pearson was asked to come up with a design for a trimmed down, bargain version of their Penguin Classics series (no intro, no scholarly notes). When it came time to review his work, though, the team faced a dilemma: Pearson’s design was so good that it made them wonder if anyone would ever again opt to buy the full versions Penguin was selling for almost four times the price.

So Pearson was sent back to the drawing board. His mission? You guessed it. Come up with a less attractive design.


This story reminded me of a large workbook series I was once tasked with managing for a former employer. We were supposed to “repurpose” old material to put a fresh look on the series. But we started to run into trouble when our editors discovered the sub-par quality of the books. Redoing this series would take more time than we thought.

Oh no it wouldn’t. You see, our superiors came to the rescue. At every editorial meeting they chanted what became a familiar mantra: “$2.99! $2.99! These are low-ticket items, people.


In other words, don’t fret about doing a really good job. What are a few errors here and there? After all, they were just workbooks for kids. If the answer key to a few problems is wrong, it will just challenge them to rethink the meaning of right and wrong. (I made that up, I think.)

However, I’m proud to say my team didn’t obey.

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Have you ever been in a situation in publishing where you were asked to sacrifice quality for the bottom line?


One Comment


Well, I certainly hope that you and your fellow editors prevailed. Nothing like a few wrong answers to elicit a few nasty letters. Or in this case, a few sweet letters from some disappointed kids.


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