1939-1953: Mass Market Paperbacks

1939-1953: Mass Market Paperbacks

1939 - Pocket Books debut

1942 - Armed Services Editions pave way for future paperback readers

1945 - Penguin

1949 - Ian Ballantine and launch of Bantam Books 

1950 - Simon & Schuster's Readers Editions cause a stir in the trade

1950 - Modern Library College Editions generate competition with Rinehart Editions in the trade-text field


2022-03-26 -- searched PW Archive for [paperbound OR paper-bound OR "paper bound" OR paperback OR paper-covered OR "paper covered" OR "bound in paper" OR "paper bindings"] and finished through the year 1950.  

Outdoor Advertising and Book Promotion, PW, Nov. 12, 1927, at 1798-1800, 1799 (first use of term "mass market" I can find in PW).  

Book Publishers Reach for the Mass Market, BUSINESS WEEK, June 4, 1930, at 14. 

*** Frederic G. Melcher, Editorial: Both Markets Needed, PW, Dec. 25, 1937, at 2339 (arguing that trade publishers should consider both the popular and selective markets). 

Frederic G. Melcher, Editorial: The Growth of the Reprint Market, PW, Aug. 19, 1939, at 509 (a recounting of the hardcover reprint, just at the time of Pocket Books's launch and success). 

Garden City Plans Paper-Bound "Rebecca," PW, Feb. 17, 1940 (a one-off, paperbound movie tie-in of Rebecca, priced at 69 cents). 

A Report on Pocket Books, PW, Mar. 2, 1940, at 986-991.

Topical Pamphlets: A New Publishing Idea, PW, Sept 21, 1940, at 1098-1101 (describing trade publishers' issuing paper-bound pamphlets in a speedy manner). 

Manley H. Jones, Things a Bookseller Should Know About Publishing, PW, June 14, 1941, at 2380-2383, 2383: 

Through the past decades, paper-covered books have not been the success here in America that they have been in Europe. Apparently the American people were unwilling to fill their shelves with any but cloth bound books even though the prices of paper books were lower. That a change in the point of view of the American people may be in the offing, however, is evidenced in the success of the paper-covered Penguin Books now being imported from England and in the sale of Pocket Books with their laminated covers. For success in this field very large printings are essential. 

Frederic G. Melcher, Editorial: Series Need Protection at Law, PW, Feb. 14, 1942, at 761 about Pocket Books/Avon litigation). 

Theresa Matt Schwartz, Soldiers Use Their Camp Libraries, PW, May 23, 1942, at 1897-1899, 1897: 

Paper-bound books, says Captain Trautman, have been a great boon to this plan. The freight which a troopship may carry is limited, and the permissible number of books is measured by their weight and the amount of space they occupy. A thousand paper-bound books may weigh only 375 pounds, while a similar number [of] clothbound may weigh as much as 17,000 pounds. Anticipating the need for libraries overseas, the Army Library Service has been purchasing paper-covered books heavily.

Modern Age Withdraws from Publishing, PW, Oct. 10, 1942, at 1575-76. 

Armed Services Editions Planned by Council on Books, PW, May 22, 1943, at 1966-1967. 

DOUBLEDAY, DORAN, PW, Aug. 7, 1943, at 408 (mentioning Doubleday, Doran's experiment to issue topical books simultaneously in cloth and paper bindings). 

The Trade Experiments with Paper Binding, PW, Oct. 9, 1943, at 1427-1429 (reviewing publishers' responses to wartime shortages of cloth, including Triangle Books and other Garden City imprints). 

Armed Services Editions Well Received by Troops, PW, Feb. 12, 1944, at 777-779. 

Big Developments Indicated in Reprint Field, PW, Oct. 7, 1944, at 1477-1478, 1477: 

There are many trends in publishing growing out of the popularity of books in wartime; none, however, is more pronounced than the trend toward the production of books for the mass market. In this field, of course, the development of reprint lines will be all-important.

Wallis E. Howe, Jr., Breaking Into New Markets, PW, Jan. 27, 1945, at 428-431 (Howe, vice-president of Pocket Books, looks at potential new markets for selling low-priced books). 

Wallis E. Howe, Jr., Selling the Brave New World, PW, Mar. 3, 1945, at 1002-1003 (Howe, vice-president of Pocket Books, looks at how to sell books in these potential new markets).

Wallis E. Howe, Jr., The Market Is You, PW, May 26, 1945, at 2066-2068 (third article in series by Howe, vice-president of Pocket Books). 

Frederic G. Melcher, Editorial: Will Compact Bookmaking Stay?, PW, June 2, 1945, at 2181 (mentioning the vicissitudes of the paperbacks of the late 1800s). 

Wallis E. Howe, Jr., In Rebuttal, PW, Aug. 11, 1945, at 494-497 (final article in series on new markets by Howe, vice-president of Pocket Books).

Pocket-Size Books Banned from New York Newsstands, PW, July 28, 1945, at 315. 

ST. ANTHONY BOOK SHOP, PW, Sept. 8, 1945, at 983 (amusing announcement of the opening of a book shop, whose slogan is "books of quality," in Toledo, OH, that "will carry no paper-covered books, pamphlets or magazines.") 

Penguin Books Plans Big Expansion Plan, PW, Sept. 15, 1945, at 1084-1086.

Frederic G. Melcher, These Paper Bound Quartos, PW, Mar. 23, 1946, at 1727.

The Quest for New Markets Continues, PW, June 22, 1946, at 3195-3196. 

Reprints and Bargain-Price Books for Mass Markets, PW, Oct. 5, 1946, at 1971-1982 (previewing the fall for reprint houses and lines, including Avon, Bantam, Dell, Everyman's Library, Garden City, Grosset & Dunlap, Hartsdale House, Modern Library, New Directions, Penguin, Popular Library, and World Publishing Co.) 

Reprint Publishers Watch Test of 35-Cent Price for "Quarter Books," PW, Dec. 28, 1946, at 3401-3402 (reporting, with views from other 25-cent publishers, like Avon, Dell, and Popular Library, that Bantam is testing a 35-cent paperbound reprint). 

Isidor Schneider, Publishers' Weekly and the Book Trade Since World War I, PW, Jan. 18, 1947, at 307, 309 (brief section titled "Toward a Mass Market.") 

Isidor Schneider, Publishers' Weekly and the Book Trade Since World War I, PW, Jan. 18, 1947, at 307, 310 (discussion of recent developments in paperbound book publishing, including two factors that led to the success of paperbound books: (1) perfect binding and (2) fair-trade practices legislation.) 

Reprints and Bargain-Price Books for Mass Markets, PW, Feb. 8, 1947, at 815-829 (previewing the spring for reprint houses and paperback lines in two parts: (1) Standard Size, Clothbound Books at p. 815 and (2) Reprints in Paper Covers at p. 824.) 

Leading Clothbound Reprints for the Mass Markets, PW, Sept. 27, 1947, at 1586-1592 (fall preview of clothbound reprints). 

Paper-Covered Reprints and Originals, PW, Sept. 27, 1947, at 1593-1597 (fall preview of paperback lines). 

Reprints and Bargain-Price Books for the Mass Market, PW, Jan. 31, 1948, at 608-618 (spring preview, with hardbound reprints at p. 608 and paper-bound editions at p. 614).  

Points of View in Book Publishing: VI--Mass Markets, PW, Mar. 6, 1948, at 1220-1221.

Garden City Will Introduce New Line, Permabooks, in September, PW, July 24, 1948, at 302-303. 

Good Fall and Christmas Business Predicted by Publishers and Booksellers, PW, Sept. 25, 1948, at 1339-1347, 1341-1342 (discussing reprints and paperbounds). 

Publishers of Paper-Bound Books Form New Association and Initiative Appeal for Lower Freight Rates, PW, Oct 9, 1948, at 1681 (Avon, Bantam, Dell, NAL, Pocket Books, and Popular Library forming alliance to lower freight rates of paperbound books to that of magazines). 

Publishers Had a Good Christmas but Are Cautious About Spring, PW, Jan. 29, 1949, at 485-488, 487-488 (section titled "Mass-Market Publishers Expect Increased Sales"). 

Frederic G. Melcher, A Cycle That Can End in Vulgarity, PW, June 4, 1949, at 2304:

In less than ten years the paper book market has become a matter of importance in book trade decisions. The new market has been built up by the appeal of titles and jackets, and can be lost by copying the worst appeals of pulps and comics, which are on simultaneous display. It is important that quality be kept up.

Ian Ballantine, Best Sellers at a Quarter: Bantam Books' New Marketing Program, PW, July 9, 1949, at 131-134.  

Quarter Books Win Second Motor Freight Rate Ruling, PW, Aug. 20, 1949, at 743-744. 

The Book Trade Is Working for a Big Fall and Christmas Season, PW, Sept. 3, 1949, at 1033-1039 (section on paperbound books is on p. 1036). 

BOOKS ON RADIO PROGRAMS, PW, Oct. 8, 1949, at 1651 (about a radio program called "Famous Books in Paper Covers"). 

Significant Changes in the Book Trade in the First Half of the 20th Century, PW, Dec. 31, 1949, at 2545-2547, 2546 (section on MASS MARKETING). 

Five Essandess Spring Books to Have $1 Paper Editions, PW, Jan. 14, 1950, at 160-161, 160: 

"With a few exceptions," Richard Simon, Essandess president, says, "I have always felt, as a consumer, that books cost too. And I wish they didn't. It was with this thought in mind that more than ten years ago we began publishing books simultaneously in the $1 pamphlet style along with the regular publication. . . . In each case the most successful combination in publishing was when a book was both good and timely. Because it was good and timely and cheap, the reader was always given a break.

"One of the big features in the plan we have in dual publication is that the public can get a reading copy complete and unabridged at much less than the regular-bound copy which sells for much more. If we were to bring out a new book at only the lower price, the public would feel that there must be something wrong with it. That is exactly what happened in the early 1930's when Doubleday, Farrar and Rinehart, and Simon and Schuster made the experiment of bringing out new books at $1.

Publishers of Paper-Covered Reprints Offer Wide Range of Subject Matter, PW, Jan. 28, 1950, at 559-565. 

Frederic G. Melcher, New Fiction at a Dollar, PW, Feb. 4, 1950, at 793 ("The publication this spring of new fiction in paper covers at a dollar brings a new element into the price structure," discussing Essandess Readers Editions).  

Council Urges That Reprint Contracts Cover Abridgement and Retitling, PW, Mar. 18, 1950, at 1407-1409.

"Cardinal" a Hit, but Dollar Book Plan Depends on All Titles in Series, PW, Apr. 15, 1950, at 1743-1747 (more on the economics of the Readers Editions).

Trade Opinion Divided on Benefits of S&S Readers' Editions, PW, Apr. 22, 1950, at 1805-1808.

Modern Library Introduces 65-Cent College Editions, PW, Apr. 29, 1950, at 1896-1897. 

OPNION, PW, June 17, 1950, at 2620 (brief report on the June 7 Bookstore Clinic, at which consensus was against S&S's Readers Edition idea, but S&S says they haven't decided plans for the venture yet).

Experiments in Price and Format Meet Changing Market Conditions, PW, June 24, 1950, at 2707-2710 (discussing a variety of series). 

The ABA Department Store Clinic, PW, July 1, 1950, at 24-29, 29 ("DEPARTMENT STORE" section, sellers saying that the $1 original paperbound has killed the reprint market). 

Grosset to Launch New Line, 75-Cent "Reviewers Selection," PW, Aug. 26, 1950, at 862 (paperbound reprints with dust jackets).

Publishers and Dealers Optimistic About Fall and Christmas Sales, PW, Sept. 23, 1950, at 1323-1327, 1326 (section titled "COMEBACK MAY BE IN SIGHT FOR FULL-SIZE REPRINTS"). 

New Editions of Classics Include New Collections and Boxed Sets, PW, Sept. 23, 1950, at 1370-1380 (reviewing mostly hardcover reprints of classics). 

Serious Fiction and Nonfiction Stand Out in Paper-Bound Editions, PW, Sept. 23, 1950, at 1381-1384. 

Debate About Original Fiction in 25-Cent Paper Editions, PW, Oct. 21, 1950, at 1840-1842.

SIMON AND SCHUSTER, PW, Nov. 4, 1950, at 2053 (S&S will continue its $1 simultaneous paperbound experiment). 

Paper Reprint Sales Total Estimated at 200,000,000, PW, Nov. 18, 1950, at 2198.  

The Mass Market, PW, 1953-1956 (recurring section in PW discussing this market).

Walter Pitkin, How to Define the Mass Market, PW, Mar. 19, 1955, at 1534.

Jay Tower, Open Letter from NAL to Reviewers, PW, Mar. 19, 1955, at 1534-1535. 

Arthur Hale, What Is "The Mass Market"?, PW, Mar. 19, 1955, at 1573: 

Is the "mass market" a place of sale, a method of distribution, a price classification, a characterization of subject matter or appeal? Since the announcement and publication of higher priced paperbacks, a dozen different series by the latest count, we have carried news about them in PW's Mass Market section. That this has caused considerable discussion can be seen by two letters to the editors on page 1534. We must agree that paperbacks retailing at 95 cents to $1.75, designed primarily for discount to bookstores, are different from paperbacks priced at 25 to 50 cents published essentially for distribution through local news wholesalers. Yet, we feel that both kinds of books are in the same broad movement in American publishing to provide better books at lower prices to more readers.

Arthur Hale, The Mass Market in the Classroom, 168 PW 1749 (Oct. 15, 1955) (introductory essay about the "revolution" of paperbacks in the classroom, which is attested by two articles following)

Donald E. Strout, Paperbound Books--Boon or Bane?,  in THE NATURE AND DEVELOPMENT OF THE LIBRARY COLLECTION 35, 40 (U. Ill. Libr. Sch. 1957), https://www.ideals.illinois.edu/handle/2142/1414

This tendency towards publishing the significant, serious, worth-while book of lasting value in an inexpensive, easily-obtainable, mass- distributed format culminated with the appearance of the "quality" paperback on the publishing scene in the early 1950's. Doubleday's Anchor Books in 1953 (with titles such as Edmund Wilson's To the Finland Station and others of like calibre) was joined by Knopf's Vintage Books, Harcourt Brace's Harvest Books, Van Nostrand's Anvil Books, Viking's Paperbound Portables, and others. (Some publishers, I am happy to add, have even employed a punning device in naming their series--the Grove Press, for example, with its Evergreen Books and the Noonday Press with its Meridian Books. ) Such series as these along with others like Mentor and Signet published by New American Library represent a serious--and, to my mind, successful--attempt by the paperback publishers themselves to discharge what the Saturday Review in a well-turned phrase once called "the responsibility for raising the general level of the paperbacks from a combination peep-show and sadist's parlor. " . . . We will not further muddy the waters by trying to frame a definition for "quality paperback"--that Johnny-come-lately of the '50's, which, somewhat erroneously, has been dubbed the "class" paperback in contrast to the "mass" paperback--a distinction which fails to take into account the presence of many "quality" titles (and indeed whole series) in the lists of the long-standing, well-established "mass" publishers like Ballantine, Bantam, Pocket Books and New American Library.

*** Frank L. Schick, THE PAPERBOUND BOOK IN AMERICA: THE HISTORY OF PAPERBACKS AND THEIR EUROPEAN BACKGROUND (Bowker, 1958), available at https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/001176647

Thomas L. Bonn, UNDER COVER: AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY OF AMERICAN MASS MARKET PAPERBACKS (Penguin 1982), https://archive.org/details/undercoverillust0000bonn/mode/2up (terrific, concise retelling of this era in Chapter 3).