The Penguin Hotline, a beloved holiday gift-giving book recommendation service, finished its tenth season on December 8, 2023. This year’s theme was “Cheers to ten years”— because for a decade now, Penguin Random House employees have had the pleasure of writing personalized book recommendations for readers (and non-readers) across the world.
The Hotline is completely free and easy to use. Consumers write in at www.penguinhotline.com and answer a few questions about the people they are buying holiday gifts for. Within a few days, the consumer receives a personalized letter from a PRH employee (or author!) with customized book recommendations to help them shop.
In the decade since its conception, the Penguin Hotline has evolved greatly. It started as an email marketing project from Penguin Publishing Group and has grown into the company-wide, consumer-facing website it is now. From a small team working to send out custom book recommendations, we’ve built an in-house volunteer group of more than 250 employees. The Hotline has become an internal project that many colleagues look forward to every year, as well as a holiday staple for the company.
One of the biggest changes to the Penguin Hotline over the last few years was the addition of a charitable giving component. Every season, we choose an organization to partner with and donate to. Four years in, we’ve donated tens of thousands of dollars to charities like ProLiteracy and the Freedom to Read Foundation, which focus respectively on advocacy for literacy and the freedom to read.
The most impactful change to the Hotline is the participation of our golden ticket authors. Each year, select authors share in the holiday cheer by writing personalized book recommendations for consumers (many of whom will be huge fans!). By posting on their social media channels and writing incredible, thoughtful book recommendations, authors have helped bring the Hotline to many new audiences.
Over the years, our volunteers have written thousands of personalized book recommendations, including some from golden ticket authors like Riley Sager, Jasmine Guillory, Nick Offerman, Celeste Ng, and more.
For the 2023 season, authors including Emily Henry, Nicholas Sparks, Isabel Cañas, Taylor Jenkins Reid, Steven Rowley, and Joe Posnanski volunteered to make our decade celebration even more special.
Our charitable partner this year was the Freedom to Read Foundation, to whom Penguin Random House donated $10,000. FTRF is a nonprofit legal and educational organization affiliated with the American Library Association, with the mission to protect and defend the right of libraries to collect—and individuals to access—information under the First Amendment.
Finally, one of the best parts of the Hotline is the glowing feedback from consumers.
Our volunteers often get rave reviews, but here are some highlights:
- “The care and attention you gave my request made me feel like I was talking to an old friend. Looking forward to purchasing all of these great recommendations.”
- “I just wanted to thank you so much for these recommendations. I can see how much time and thought you put into each of them. I actually did this as a gift to myself—opening this email felt like Christmas morning! I really loved this hotline and will recommend it to my friends!”
- “I can’t wait to tell my grandmother how I came up with her gift this year—she will be amazed that someone was out there thinking about what she might like to read.”
- “WOW! I am very grateful for your recommendations and completely impressed with not only your ideas but how you really tried to match them to what my very smart niece is interested in—well done! Thank you, thank you, thank you—what a wonderful service you provide.”
- And an extra special review from a consumer who got their custom book recs from their favorite author: “I just did a complete happy dance—my reply was from you!! And it had absolutely wonderful suggestions. Best Christmas present ever—thank you!!”
As we look ahead to many more seasons of the Penguin Hotline, we hope to reach more readers, find more colleagues to volunteer, and bring even more joy to book lovers everywhere. To the next decade!
Andrew Taets is Marketing Associate for Penguin Publishing Group.