During World War II, it was a challenge for businesses not directly involved in the war to stay afloat. Penguin was doing much better than its competitors but it did require some innovations. Following a 50% rise in the cost of paper in 1937, it was decided to permit advertising in the popular paperbacks.
The calculations are interesting. Allen Lane said that “a comparatively successful” Penguin would sell 150,000 copies and a bestseller 350,000. The charge to the advertiser was five shillings per thousand copies for a full-page black & white ad or back cover and there might be five pages of ads. In this case the best seller would cost each advertiser £87 and bring in a total of £435, a nice little earner for Penguin. In 1944 it brought in £20,000, or about £1,000,000 in today’s terms.
To put it into perspective, an industrial worker then earned only £180 per year, so £87 was a good sum.
The advertisements covered a range of products, most of them now extinct. Sometimes the juxtapositions are amusing.
(Some of the financial information is taken from the book Fifty Penguin Years, published in 1985)