ALMOST 90 years after the idea of making affordable paperback books available to the masses was conceived in Exeter – soon to become Penguin books – a new vending machine selling "page turners" at Exeter's St David's Railway Station has been installed.
It was back in 1934 that publisher Sir Allen Lane struggled to find a good book to read at Exeter St David's whilst returning home after a meeting with Agatha Christie.
The dilemma led to Sir Allen Lane forming Penguin Books and the rest is as they say …is history!
Now almost a century later, modern-day commuters won’t face the same problem as Penguin’s founder had all those years ago, thanks to the installation of a Penguin Books vending machine at the station.
The installation is a partnership between Penguin Books, Exeter UNESCO City of Literature and Great Western Railway.
Supplied by Southwest-based vending machine company Graddon Vending, the machine sits in the entrance to Exeter St David's, allowing passengers travelling through Exeter to purchase a wide range of Penguin Books, including contemporary and classic titles.
Titles will change on a regular basis, featuring new releases and perennial favourites, as well as marking key moments throughout the year, such as LGBTQIA+ History Month, Black History Month, COP28, and so on.
The simple act of walking through a railway station and picking up a good book to enjoy on your journey forms the foundations of Penguin Books itself.
In 1934 Sir Allen Lane was waiting at Exeter St David's train station and couldn’t find a good book to read; only magazines or reprints of Victorian novels. Right there and then he decided that high quality, engaging and reasonably priced books should be available to everyone, anywhere. The following year saw history made with the birth of the paperback as Penguin Books released its first 10 titles.
With the Penguin Books vending machine, commuters can easily pick up an affordable and high-quality book to enjoy on their journey, just as Allen Lane envisaged. It is a celebration of what is at the core of Penguin Books: engaging and absorbing books for anyone to read, wherever they go.
Profits from the vending machine will support Bookbag, a beloved local independent bookstore, and Exeter City of Literature, which promotes literacy and celebrates books in the local area.
Anna Cohn Orchard, Executive Director of Exeter UNESCO City of Literature, knew of Penguin’s history and approached the publisher in 2021 with the idea for a book vending machine at the site of Penguin’s origin.
She said: “I grew up in Exeter, but didn’t learn about Penguin’s history until, ironically, I was working in publishing in New York.
“When I took on my current role, I knew I wanted to promote Exeter and Devon’s interesting, and often hidden, literary history to a much wider audience.
"This incredible invention, made possible by Penguin’s enthusiastic support and the work of a local vending machine company, will not only make reading more accessible to everyone who steps foot onto St David's, but it will shine a light on how Devon has inspired so many great figures in the literary world.”
Zainab Juma, Head of Brand at Penguin, said: “When Exeter City of Literature approached us about the Penguin Books vending machine, we knew immediately that it was the perfect way to celebrate our origins.
"Whiling away your time with a book is one of the great pleasures of train travel and this machine is just what our founder Allen Lane would have wanted to see as he set off on his journey.
"We’re especially pleased that the vending machine will benefit Bookbag, a local independent bookstore, and Exeter City of Literature who do brilliant work celebrating Exeter’s literary history and making books and reading more accessible in the local community.”
Amanda Burns, Director of Sales and Marketing for GWR, said: “We are proud of our long affiliation with Penguin Books, which dates back nearly 90 years.
"This book vending machine is a wonderful addition to Exeter St David's station and is already proving popular with customers.
"Many of us love a good book to read on a relaxing railway journey to an iconic destination and this installation means you can pick up a Penguin Book just before you travel.”