In the past, one facet of Penguin UK's publishing were the Penguin Specials: books written and published quickly to address some newsworthy aspect of the world. They were sort of a bridge between the physical qualities of books and the turnaround time of magazine pieces. Especially popular during WWII and the beginning of the Cold War, and well before the internet, they let talented journalists and experts explain developments to a big, interested audience.
|This title is actually still available as a print book|
Many of the changes to the publishing landscape engendered by the ebook boom are mixed blessings. One thing I do like, though, is that there seems to be something of a renewal in interest in publishing quality long-form journalism as cheap ebooks. Byliner, for example, has made a particular virtue of this. And now Penguin in the UK and Australia have resurrected the Specials range as an ebook series.
The design of the books uses a slightly modernised version of the original Penguin cover designs: text, no illustrations, and colour coding to indicate genre. This is both a nice callback to the company's beginnings, but it also has the virtue of allowing the covers to look clean and legible even as small thumbnails: since these are books you will never see in physical bookshops, this is only way most people will see them.
The available titles are an odd mix: Penguin UK seems to be mainly releasing short economics/business books and a scattering of works in other genres: military history, health, short fiction and collected newspaper columns. (And sometimes labelled as 'Shorts' rather than 'Specials'.)
The Australian offerings are a little different. They are either excellent essays and works of reportage...
|Adelaide, my home city, is the subject of numerous uneasy jokes from interstate because of its unfortunate record of vanished children, serial killers, murderous paedophiles, and other mass murderers. Bradley was brought up here, and this essay looks at the 'City of Churches'' neglected dark side. It's beautifully written, despite the horrible details, and is rather more reflective and thoughtful than crime writing tends to be.|
..or else (with a few exceptions, including an excellent tale by James Bradley) single tales cut out of already published collections, none of them especially new.
Now, these are pretty much all excellent short stories, and well worth your time. But I do wonder at the strange notion of paying $2.99 for a single, DRM-bound digital version of a story when, in many cases, you can buy the full collection, printed and bound, with perhaps 11 other stories, for $9.95. In a saner world, it seems more that these individual stories might be free giveaways to entice people into buying the full collections.