1953-1967: Quality Paperbacks and Corporate Mergers

1953-1967: Quality Paperbacks and Corporate Mergers

The Quality Revolution?

1953 - Jason Epstein launches Anchor Books at Doubleday

1954-1956 - imitators: Vintage (Knopf), Evergreen Books (Grove), Modern Library Paperbacks (Random House), Meridian Books, New Directions Paperbooks, Harvest Books (Harcourt, Brace), Compass Books (Viking), Noonday Paperbacks, Phoenix Books (U. Chicago Press), Riverside Editions (Houghton Mifflin), Torchbooks (Harper & Bros.), Universal Library (Grosset & Dunlap)

Mergers & Acquisitions


*** 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). 

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

Questions About Paperbounds, PW, Dec. 18, 1954, at 2326 (posing questions about the state of the paperback publishing industry, given the recent flourishing of higher-priced paperbound lines).

Importance of Paperbacks Increases in Bookstores, PW, Mar. 5, 1955, at 1378 (about the influx of higher-priced paperback lines).

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.

Arthur A. Cohen, The Oversize Paperback: With Some Asides on Paperbooks in General, PW, Jan. 7, 1956, at 24: 

The broader question, the more significant question which causes the bookseller to pause before he introduces new paperback fixtures is: will the paperbook last; particularly, will the quality paperbook last? There is now little question that the idea of mass market paperbacks is well established. The quality paperbook publishers have not, however, passed through hard times. They have not enjoyed the rude shock that accompanies irrational expansion. It is always possible that they will avoid the disasters of their mass market colleagues, but it is less than likely. The disaster, if it occurs, will be man-made.


The quality paperbook is as yet a revolution without a guillotine. To avoid the guillotine permanently, we must disabuse ourselves of three illusions on which much publishing policy seems to be founded: (a) the illusion of quick profit; (b) the illusion that to publish in paper is automatically to transform the unprofitable into the profitable; and (c) the illusion of endless, untapped outlets . . . . 

PW, July 2, 1956, at 25-26 (describing an article in the periodical Jubilee about paperback books, noting that the article says "some people feel that the 'quality' paperbacks are reaching a saturation point which will force publishers to discontinue their 'quality' paperbacks.") 

No Shortage of Projects, PW, Nov. 19, 1956, at 2268 (reporting from a panel session on "Quality Paperbacks" at the Nov. 7 meeting of the Young Publishers Group that paperback publishers are starting to originate titles, publishing them first in hardcover, so that they can retain full rather than reprint rights in the work over 56 years). 

Paperback Glut Coming?, PW, Nov. 19, 1956, at 2268 (reporting that Arthur Cohen of Meridian spoke at the Nov. 7 meeting of the Young Publishers Group that the predicted glut in the higher-priced paperback market hasn't come yet but may arrive soon, pushing out new quality paperback houses). 

The Format's the Thing, PW, Nov. 19, 1956, at 2268 (noting Jason Epstein's remarks at the YPG meeting regarding his role in developing Anchor Books): 

We wanted to produce a book cheaply. We took the binding and the jacket off the regular trade book, reduced the size and got something that looked like a newsstand paperback. Then we went back a few steps, increased the size to something nearer a trade book, and the result is sort of a buffer between trade publishing and 25-cent publishing. An editorial line is necessary for this kind of publishing: you have to do books that will stay in print and will reach a constant audience. But in the beginning, format was the most interesting part. Probably, the format possibilities now have been pretty well exhausted.  

Display and Timing, PW, Jan. 28, 1957, at 159 (covers 5 publishers' responses to questions about the paperback field in the PW annual questionnaire. Grosset responded that "Higher quality paperbacks are here to stay as a device for permitting bargain prices and making volume sales on books that normally have nominal annual sales.") 

*** A National Wholesale Service for Higher-Priced Paperbacks, PW, Feb. 18, 1957, at 34-36 (profiling Paper Editions Corporation and its services to bookstores, libraries, and other institutions). 

*** 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

Religious Books and Related Titles -- A Major Category of Paperbacks, PW, Feb. 17, 1958, at 73-78 (describing Image Books, Torchbooks, Living Age Books, Jewish Publication Society Series, et al.) 

Melvin Arnold: The Paperback Revolution, PW, July 21, 1958, at 31-34 (reprinting remarks, comparing paperbacks to the field of LP records, of Melvin Arnold (head of Harper's religious paperbacks) at the Association of American University Presses 1958 annual meeting on the state of paperback publishing). 

PW, Jan. 19, 1959, at 118 (note in PW Forecast section on Avon's publication of Kerouac's The Subterraneans, which PW thinks may be the first reprint by a mass market publisher of a work that was initially published as a quality paperback (as a Grove Evergreen Book)). 

***"Quality" Paperbacks: What Is Their Future?, PW, Apr. 20, 1959, at 25-27 (reporting from the March 18 panel on quality paperback publishing at the Trade Book Clinic of the American Institute of Graphic Arts, featuring Arthur Cohen (president of Meridian Books), Edward A. Hodge (sales manager at Harcourt, Brace), and Igor Kropotkin (manager of the Scribner Bookstore)). 

Manual Siwek, Marketing Revolution: What It Means to Books, PW, June 1, 1959, at 15-18 (reprinting remarks of Siwek, executive vice-president of Grosset & Dunlap, delivered May 12 at the American Book Publishers Council annual meeting): 

A new pattern seems now to be fixed with higher-priced quality paperback books. According to the very recent Hunt Report, these increased from 4,336,000 units to 5,586,000 units (or an increase of 28%)—an expression, of course, of the growing lines of quality paperbacks. The likelihood is that paperbacks in this category will continue to increase. It would seem true that some of the present retailers of lower-price paperbacks will inevitably become sellers of the quality lines at higher prices. (I hope the paperback publishers will not read an invidious comparison into my use of the term quality paperbacks. We all know that the low-priced paperback publishers have already published a great many distinguished books themselves.) 

Paperback Book Section, N.Y. TIMES BOOK REVIEW (Jan. 14, 1962), at 1-40 (begins at image #129 in TimesMachine), https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1962/01/14/issue.html 

Thomas L. Bonn, UNDER COVER: AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY OF AMERICAN MASS MARKET PAPERBACKS (Penguin 1982), https://archive.org/details/undercoverillust0000bonn/mode/2up (indispensable, concise account of this era in Chapter 5).