Accessible formats and bold design driving new appetite for Classic books among a younger audience

Pocket Penguins

~ A Penguin Classic sold every 10 seconds in the UK last year ~
~ The average age of buyers has fallen by 6 years since 2012 ~

More and more young people in the UK are reading Classic books for pleasure thanks to bold changes to design and format, Penguin Random House UK said today.

A Penguin Classic sold every 10 seconds in the UK last year and the average age of buyers fell to 30 years – a decrease of six years since 2012. This shift has spread across the whole UK Classic fiction market: according to Nielsen Books & Consumers data, the average age of the Classics buyer has fallen from 38 years to 35 years in the same time period.

UK readers bought more than 3 million Penguin Classics books and 5,000 different editions across physical and digital in 2015. 75% were bought by under-35s – compared to 61% for the Classics category as a whole – and nearly three quarters (73%) were bought to read for pleasure, with just one in five purchases for study.

This shift follows the hugely successful 2015 launch of the Little Black Classics, bite-sized Classic texts published to mark the 80th anniversary of Penguin and to reach new readers who may have found full-length Classics intimidating. Over 2.5 million copies of the 80p titles have been sold worldwide, and last year a Little Black Classic was bought every 30 seconds in the UK – more than a quarter of these purchased on impulse. One surprise hit included Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx’s The Communist Manifesto (150,000 copies sold worldwide).

Today, Penguin Random House UK releases its Pocket Penguins, the full-length “older siblings” of the Little Black Classics, to reach people who might have perceived Classics as ‘stuffy’ or ‘intimidating’ with a more approachable and contemporary design, and a striking return to colour after decades of black. Like the Little Black Classics, the Pocket Penguins include lesser-known or “unjustly overlooked” texts in a compact format.

Simon Winder, Publishing Director, Penguin Press, said: “It was striking that just by highlighting a specific writer in Little Black Classics, sometimes famous, sometimes obscure, it was possible to transform their fortunes – one example: booksellers normally sell a few hundred copies of Emily Brontë’s Complete Poems in a year, but they have sold over 30,000 of her Night Is Darkening Round Me in LBCs. Now, we have come up with Pocket Penguins – a way of highlighting a small part of the inexhaustible Classics range and giving proper focus to a small set of twenty spectacular, very different books."

Also in the Penguin Random House Group, Vintage Classics has focused on making beautiful Classic books available at accessible prices to reach as wide an audience as possible since its relaunch nearly ten years ago. In 2014, Vintage re-issued the Jane Austen backlist in a new, smaller flapped paperback format – boosting sales by 200%. The Brontë sisters’ novels followed last year, and Virginia Woolf’s novels will be released in this new format this year. 

Tom Weldon, CEO, Penguin Random House UK
, added: “Classics remain a hugely important part of our business and it is terrific to see how these brands are evolving to stay relevant to today’s readers. Our aim is to create, curate and publish stories and ideas that matter to everybody – whether that’s a Tolstoy classic, the first book from a new YouTube star, an adult colouring book, or one of our many Man Booker Prize winners.”

Discoverability is just as important as design and retailers are instrumental in this. Following the success of John Williams’ Stoner (Vintage Classics) in 2013, Waterstones launched a new ‘Rediscovered Classics: The Best Books You’ve Never Read’ promotion last summer. Chris White, Waterstones fiction buyer, said: ‘With the launch of our Rediscovered Classics promotion, we have, in many ways, rediscovered our original purpose as a bookseller: to bring great books to as wide an audience as possible and to understand that any book is a new book to the person who has never read it before. Since its inception last June we have sold over 80,000 copies of titles such as A Moveable Feast, The Enchanted April and A Month in the Country, proving the enormous appetite among our customers to read Classic books which are timeless in their appeal and enduring in their quality.’

The first 20 Pocket Penguins are published today and priced £5.99-£8.99. Find out more at: 

Find out more about Vintage Classics here:


Notes to Editors:

  • 8,300 Penguin Classics were bought every day in the UK in 2015
  • The launch of the Little Black Classics increased the number of impulse purchases of Penguin’s Classic fiction – with 26% of copies bought on impulse in 2015 vs 20% in 2014.
  • 92% of Vintage Classics were bought for pleasure between 2012 and 2015, and more than a quarter bought on impulse
  • Nielsen Books & Consumers data covers Classic fiction purchases in the period January 2012 - December 2015.
  • Penguin Classics and Vintage Classics are imprints of Penguin Random House UK 
  • For more information, contact Hannah Glenny (

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