Collier Books

Publisher: Crowell-Collier Publishing Company

People: Leonard Shatzkin

Years: 1961-1964; series continued for decades using ISBNs rather than series numbers (I've not listed these titles because there's no systematic way to find them all.)

Related Series: --

Collier Books was the product of the 1960-1961 merger of the Crowell-Collier Publishing Company with the American Macmillan Company. Evidently, they were eager to enter the quality paperback field, as Collier Books were released in near-absurd numbers of titles immediately at the rate of 50 a month. Within a year, Collier-Crowell was experiencing losses, leading to cuts in the ambitious Collier Books program and layoffs.

The series from the beginning was unusually varied in scope, with mystery novels rubbing elbows with classics and books in the sciences, history, religion, etc. There were a few different subseries of the Collier Books series:

AS — titles sold at $.95
AS 1001 et seq. — Basic Facts series
BL — Quick and Easy Guides
BS — titles sold at $1.50
CB - title sold at $1.25
CS — titles sold at $1.95
HS — Collier Classics

I have no idea why some series numbers have X, V, or Y after them. It's not associated with price or revisions, at least.

The Basic Facts and Quick and Easy Guides are Barnes & Noble-style study guides. There are gaps in the numbering of each series, presumably because the series ended before additional titles were produced to fill the gaps.

A number of classics were published prior to the start of the HS subseries, which late in its run included some odd titles, including a couple children's mystery series and a quiz series called Do You Know.

Additional Information

New Fields for Crowell-Collier, 116 FIN. WORLD 7 (1961):

Company has come a long way since disposing of its unprofitable magazines. Management is continuing a policy of expansion and diversification. . . . Another sign of the company’s rising position in the publishing field was the recent announcement of a new line of paperbacks scheduled to come out this fall. The new series, to be called Collier Books, will include scholarly as well as popular and non-fiction titles, and will be priced chiefly in the 95¢-to-$1.50 range.

PW, Nov. 27, 1961, at 35:

COLLIER BOOKS’ second batch of 50 titles, released this month, follows much the same wide range of subject matter as the first 50, published in October. With the addition of the second list there are over a million copies of the new paperback line in print.

Crowell-Collier Reduces Staff in Two Divisions, Publishers Weekly, Dec. 10, 1962, at 24:

During the last week in November, Crowell-Collier eased the schedule deadlines and the production pace in two divisions of the company, Collier Books and the division working on new projects such as the Crowell-Collier young people’s encyclopedia. The initial result of the cutback was that reductions have been made in the editorial and promotion staffs of Collier Books, and the editorial and art staffs of the Crowell-Collier Educational Corporation, which is responsible for the editorial preparation of Crowell-Collier reference books. The accelerated schedule which had been in effect on this encyclopedia project has been replaced by what the firm calls “a more flow of copy,” and the completion deadline has been extended. A secondary result of the adjustments was a flood of rumors through the publishing world. A Crowell-Collier spokesman said that there will be no changes in existing publications nor in the overall plans of the company.

Collier Books, the paperback division, announced in a release on the occasion of its first anniversary in October, 1962, that the number of titles issued each month would be reduced to 35 or 40 titles a month, starting early in 1963. The precise number of titles to be published next year has not yet been determined, but according to Crowell-Collier, the number will be “substantially consistent with the original projection made in 1961.” The paperback program has now built up a backlist of some 700 titles. No books now under contract will be cancelled, the company stated. The various juvenile series planned by Collier Books for the coming year (PW, November 19) are underway.

Charles A. Madison, BOOK PUBLISHING IN AMERICA 458-59 (1966):

With the Macmillan merger accomplished, Crowell-Collier decided to launch a highly ambitious paperback venture. Leonard Shatzkin, for 10 years a bright executive in Doubleday’s reprint division, was engaged to head it. The plan was to build up a backlist quickly by issuing 50 volumes monthly, reprints and originals in every marketable field. Louis Kronenberger was engaged to edit the studies of Masters of World Literature, M. T. Florinsky was put in charge of books on Soviet Russia, H. H. Rowen was to acquire books on France, M. T. Williams was to look after studies of jazz, and G. McWhinney books on the Civil War. Texts in various subjects were to be edited by well-known teachers. For months there were great excitement and feverish activity. Relatively high advances were offered to college teachers and others for books to be issued in the Collier Books program. By late 1962 nearly 700 books were actually in print. But the economics of the program proved unrealistic. In December the editorial and sales staffs were reduced drastically and the schedule of publication was radically curtailed. The next year Shatzkin left to take a position with McGraw-Hill.

Mike Shatzkin, A New Perspective on Some Old Family Publishing History, SHATZKIN FILES (May 10, 2009),

Mass markets really were paperbacks. The trade paperback business was small and academic. And mass market was distributed through IDs.

Well, Len didn’t believe in ID distribution; he believed it was inherently inefficient and the mass market business would ultimately choke on its growth. (It took 20 or 30 years for that to become obvious, but he was right.) So he wanted to create a paperback line which created its own outlets, using the same rack-jobbing (inventory selection) techniques he had developed for the Doubleday Merchandising Plan.

Len also thought he had a better way to get to a backlist than to buy one. He would create one by publishing a very large number of titles — 50 new ones per month. The plan was to do this for three years which would give him 1800 titles in print. Presto, instant backlist.

Ray Hagel, the CEO of the Crowell-Collier Publishing Company, was recruiting Len from Doubleday and bought into this idea. Hagel was early in the curve of the go-go 60s, acquiring companies with stock. While Len was there, he acquired Macmillan Publishing, Free Press of Glencoe (bringing the soon-to-be-legendary Jeremiah Kaplan to New York publishing), Brentano’s Bookstores, and, if memory serves, a planetarium-creating company in Baltimore. And he financed Len’s vision: a new company called Collier Books.

So, starting in about early 1962 I think, a box of 50 new Collier Books titles would arrive at our house every month. And did for about a year or so. Collier Books started branching out. They created Modern Masters for Young People, children’s books from famous authors (Robert Graves, Louis Untermeyer) in a series overseen by a young neophyte editor named Harlin Quist, who also later made quite a name for himself publishing original children’s books. They had a line of study guides. They started publishing hardcovers. They even had a line of books that anticipated computerized teaching: you read a chunk, you get a question, and a choice of four answers. You turn to a different page based on which of the answers you chose, which told you if you were right or wrong and addressed your specific misunderstanding if you were wrong. Lots of smart stuff!

But then the stock market turned sour. Crowell-Collier stock went down. All the transactions they’d done using the stock for leverage were now jeopardizing management’s control of the company. Expenses had to be cut. And the very ambitious Collier Books rollout had to be curtailed.

This meant my father had to fire a lot of people. Although Ray Hagel offered him a 50% salary increase to stay at the company (and, by this time, Dad was running other divisions, including Brentano’s), Dad took the whole Collier Books thing too personally to consider it. He left and went to McGraw-Hill a few months later.

But here’s the thing talking to Cader made me realize on Thursday.

When Dad published 600 new titles a year (more really, because 600 was the number for the rackable paperbacks) at Collier Books, he was increasing the industry output by SIX percent! To put that into context, we’d be talking about a new company today publishing about TWENTY THOUSAND new titles a year to have an equivalent effect on industry output. I have known this history for a very long time. I have a whole new appreciation for what Dad did in this context. It’s one of those times I wish I could tell him.

Collier Quick and Easy Guides (BL Series):

From the back of BL 24 (Collier Quick and Easy Guide to Economics):

The COLLIER BOOKS Series is designed to offer you concise, basic, authoritative information. The authors of these Quick and Easy Guides are experienced educators or well-qualified practitioners of the sports, arts, and vocations they write about. They were selected not only for their special competence in their fields but, equally important, for their ability to present their subjects in a clear, well-organized, and readable style.

The back cover lists 30 titles alphabetically. The only one I can’t find is ELEMENTARY ALGEBRA by George Lenchner, M.A. The back cover for BL 23 (BUSINESS LETTER WRITING) lists nearly the same group of 30 titles but with MAGIC in the place of ELEMENTARY ALGEBRA. It appears that only 30 titles were created.