Meridian Books (publisher)


Charles A. Madison, BOOK PUBLISHING IN AMERICA 555-556 (1966):

In 1954 Arthur A. Cohen became one of the first to publish quality paperbacks ranging in price from $1 to $1.95. Still in his twenties, he in October 1951 formed Noonday Press in partnership with Cecil Hemley. Three years later he started Meridian Books with the aim of bringing out paperbacks of leading works in religion, philosophy, and literature. Among his early publications were books by Jacques Maritain, Jacob Burckhardt, Eric Bentley, E.M. Forster, Irving Babbitt, Herbert Read, Joseph Schumpeter, and J.M. Keynes. In 1956 Noonday Press and Meridian Books were separated, with Hemley in control of the first and Cohen of the second.

To promote his books, Cohen issued an eight-page quarterly circular. As sales increased, he expanded his activities by issuing Greenwich Editions, Living Age Books, and Meridian Giants. Among his new books were volumes by such eminent men as Max Planck, Andre Gide, and Alfred Vagts; also numerous works dealing with various religions. In 1959 he issued a different type of book--Kate Simon’s New York Places and Pleasures, with a first printing of 50,000 copies. He also began to publish fiction and brought out paperbacks of novels by such authors as Simone de Beauvoir, Isaak Babel, Philip Roth, Angus Wilson, and Rose Macaulay.

Although Meridian sales were not large by paperback standards, Cohen did relatively well with the kind of books he published. In 1959 he said:

Of the more than 140 books we have published at Meridian Books in the past four years of paper covers, our worst failure still sold 6500 copies. I should add, however, that this was substantially higher than the sale it enjoyed with the original publisher, and our net proceeds were considerably higher with comparatively lower per unit costs.

In April 1960 Meridian Books was acquired by World Publishing Company and established its paperback subsidiary under Cohen’s direction. At the time the sales the Meridian list were around $600,000, with other half obtained in colleges. Stimulated by greater distribution facilities, Cohen expanded the Meridian publication program. He spent $5000 to publicize the edition of Frank Lloyd Wright: Writings and Buildings, of which he had ordered a first printing of 20,000 copies at $1.95. He also made a first printing of 100,000 copies of a concise edition of Webster’s New World Dictionary.

In 1962 Cohen left World to start a religious department for Holt, Rinehart and Winston.


Farrar Straus’s second venture in this field did not last either, but it was even more distinguished. In 1960, the company bought Noonday Press, Inc., as a wholly owned subsidiary, with 60 active backlist and current titles. Noonday had been founded in 1951 by Arthur Cohen, philosopher and critic, and Cecil Hemley, a novelist and poet, as one of the first higher priced quality paperback houses. Hemley and Cohen intended their house to operate much as a university press would, and although it never issued many more than a dozen titles a year, the books were of the highest literary quality--indeed, some said, too intellectual for the general market and certainly not mass market items. Undisturbed, the partners launched Meridian Press in 1955, a series of trade paperback titles of similar quality. A year later, they had parted, with Cohen becoming president of a new firm, Meridian Books, and Hemley remaining as director of Noonday. Not long after the merger with Farrar, Straus, Hemley left to join the Ohio University Press. He died in 1966.20 The Meridian imprint ceased to appear in the seventies.

Charles A. Madison, BOOK PUBLISHING IN AMERICA 525 (1966):

In April [1960 World Publishing Co.] acquired Meridian Books by an exchange of stock, a paperback firm doing a business of $600,000 a year. Arthur A. Cohen, its founder, was engaged as vice-president in charge of the firm’s paperbacks.