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By The Drum, Editorial

November 29, 2023 | 2 min read

Penguin Random House scooped the Grand Prix and Physical Product Design awards at The Drum Awards for Design with its Unburnable Book which spoke out againt censorship. Here is the award-winning case study.

As the world's largest English-language book publisher, Penguin Random House is deeply invested in freedom of expression. Over the past year, according to a recent PEN report, book banning in U.S. schools and libraries has reached unprecedented levels — particularly books that address themes of racism, gender, and sexual orientation. Some elected officials have even suggested burning books deemed “inappropriate.”

As the publisher of one of the most banned books of all time — Margaret Atwood’s 1985 dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale — Penguin wanted to make a clear statement against censorship.

Execution

With officials across the US engaging in censorship and even threatening to burn books, we asked one simple question: What if they couldn’t? The result was the Unburnable Book. A one-of-a-kind edition of The Handmaid’s Tale specially designed to be impossible to burn. Printed on Cinefoil pages, using heat-resistant inks and bound with nickel wire, the materials used to create the book are stable up to 2600°F. The book launched on PRH social channels and at the PEN America Literary Gala in Manhattan, alongside a video of Margaret Atwood attempting to burn her own book with a flamethrower. In no time, the story went global being picked up over 5,000 times in outlets like the New York Times and Vanity Fair.

Following the launch, the single edition was auctioned at Sotheby’s New York, going for $130,000 with all proceeds going to PEN America, an organization that promotes freedom of expression. Most importantly, a book that censors wanted to ban landed back on the bestsellers list.

Results/Impact

US$130,000 donation to PEN 5,230 organic media hits + reach of 12 billion worldwide, including the New York Times, Washington Post, The Guardian, ABC, CBS, People, Vanity Fair, Reuters, and Fast Company. Organic reach of over 12 billion impressions. Advertising Value Equivalency of $35 million in earned media with no media spend.

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