Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Paperback: Books for "just plain folks"

From the March 1957 issue of American Artist magazine:

Henry Pitz writes: [Paperback publishers] have felt the nudge of competition from the books of newer design...

... and they are abandoning the old clichés and experimenting with fresh approaches.

It is only fair to point out that in addition to dozens of mystery and suspense stories,

adventure tales, westerns,

and popular novels which may not be literature but have a legitimate place in our scheme of reading, there are on their lists, in fiction, such names as Dostoevski, Tolstoi, Balzac, Zola, Thomas Wolfe, D.H. Lawrence, and Melville...

... and, among living writers, Rosamond Lehmann, Thornton Wilder, Ernest Hemingway, Aldous Huxley, Robert Penn Warren, Eudora Welty, Robert Graves, John Marquand, and James Michener.

Sol Immerman, vice-president of Pocket Books describes the company's marketing strategy...

"If we constantly realize that the great masses of the American public are, for the most part, just plain folks, we are immediately influenced in our thinking in regards to our approach."

"Each book (by means of its cover) must be its own salesman, advertisement, and direct contact with the buying public. Of course, the basic principles of good selling must govern our thinking. these are : 1. Attract attention; 2. Create interest; 3. Stimulate the desire to purchase."

"Each book is, and must be considered as, a packaging problem of its own. No two books are alike. No set formula can be laid down for all books. What works for one book cannot be expected to work for another."

"Trickiness will not do. It might attract attention, but surely will not fulfill our other two basic requirements.

Busyness - our readers do not have time to study and figure out what we are trying to say. We must reach them quickly, directly, and forcefully. All three sales principles can be lost here."

"Simplicity - if overdone - will not attract attention and so the ability to create interest and stimulate purchases will be lost."

"Bad Taste will offend our consumer. The experience gained in our seventeen years of publishing and selling paperbound books to the great masses of readers throughout the world has given us a fairly accurate picture of our markets, reading habits, tastes, likes and dislikes. This applies not only to what these readers like to look at, but also to the kind of books they like to read."

1. "What is our objective? To sell the most copies of each book we publish. 2. To whom do we wish to sell these books? To the greatest number of people in what we call America's mass market."

This ultimate goal for each book is sought after with the watchwords of the founders of our company - "To reach the greatest number of readers with the best books, for the least money."

* Accompanying this week's excerpts from the American Artist article are a broad sampling of mid-century paperback cover scans generously provided by one of my contacts on Flickr, UK Vintage. Many thanks Uilke!

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Paper-Bounds Go Legit

"America has discovered the paperback book. Like so many of America's appetites it is a sudden and voracious thing. Will it disappear tomorrow? No one knows, but the publishers have been searching the shelves for nourishing things to feed it; almost every morsel they have offered has been relished and there are no present signs of repletion."

So begins Henry C. Pitz's article on "The Design of the Paperback Book" in the March 1957 issue of American Artist magazine. It provides an interesting counterpoint to the 1953 article from Fortune magazine we looked at all last week. Though not even five years had passed since Fortune examined the phenomenon of the "paper-bounds" one could safely say that a massive evolution in how America consumed popular culture was well under way. How this shift affected the illustration industry is evident in Pitz' article.

"The renaissance of the paperback in this country began less than twenty years ago," wrote Pitz. "It was a spectacular thing, a publishing area that grew to giant size over night. The artist was involved in it from the beginning and hundreds of paintings and drawings ranging from excellent to poor were commissioned."

"However, it must be admitted that the design world did not think of paperback cover design with admiration until a few years ago. A new impulse appeared when several of the publishers, notably Doubleday and Company, through their Anchor series, began to issue serious and scholarly works, which had been dormant in sales, in paperback form. The experiment was an instant success."

"The recent excitement may tend to make us forget that the real paperback renaissance began seventeen or eighteen years ago. For a while there was a mad scramble among eager opportunists... it is their product which has created the dominant image of the paperback in the American mind. They found outlets in places that never before had thought of handling books. We have seen them hundreds of times in drugstores, on newsstands and cigar counters, and even in many more unlikely places. It is not altogether our fault if we muster up an image of a salaciously realistic cover enclosing an innocuous content."

"It is by no means a fair image but the publishers must bear the blame for it, for many times they resorted to suggestive pictorial appeal in order to sell books of even superior content."

"This stage is passing rapidly."

* Accompanying this week's excerpts from the American Artist article are a broad sampling of mid-century paperback cover scans generously provided by one of my contacts on Flickr, UK Vintage. Many thanks Uilke!

* Thanks also to The Woman in the Woods for the final scan in today's post.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Paper-Bounds: Crunching the Numbers

* Today's excerpt deals mostly with the statistical information related to sales figures and number of volumes published during the early 1950s. For our purposes these figures reveal a couple of interesting considerations: that the paper-bounds required a tremendous amount of cover artwork annually (a spectacular new market for illustrators of varying skill levels) and that the artwork was being seen by many millions of American readers (remember that paper-bounds are often passed on or resold at used book stores, suggesting that two or three readers typically saw the one book purchased).

From Fortune magazine, September 1953:

The paper-bound houses this year are expecting to put out 1,200 titles compared to the combined major-book-club total of sixty-four.

"The machine," as it is called by one paper-bound publisher, was borrowed with only slight modifications from magazine publishing. First print orders for new paper-bound titles are usually for 250,000 copies, which can be printed at the rate or 12,000 books and 100,000 covers an hour, and trucked off along one of two distribution channels: the American News Co.; with its chain of 335 wholesale branches, or one of the 865 independent wholesalers. Jointly, the wholesalers supply some 100,000 retail outlets in the U.S. and Canada.

To keep their machinery rolling, paper-bound publishers consume new material at a burning pace. Some reprint houses are so hard up for new material that they have reprinted books that have already been through the mill. Others are reaching deep into trade backlists.

Material shortage shows most clearly in cutthroat competition for new manuscripts, in the form of advances to publisher and author against royalties. "The biggest guarantees," says one one paper-bound publisher, "are being paid for the books with the highest sex content."

Random House, for example, recently got $35,000 from Bantam for Lament for Four Virgins (Bantam admits the purchase was primarily for the title.)

The fencing for new material is polite sport compared to the struggle for outlets and display space. At the current production rate, an average of 25 million books and 100 titles are being poured into the market each month. Brentano's in Manhattan, with its big 1000-title display, still shows only a third of the currently available titles.

Mickey Spillane's sales last year are estimated to have equaled about a quarter the sales of all paper-bound nonfiction, including brisk sellers like Pocket Books' dictionary.

The first printing of Spillane's current title Kiss Me Deadly was three million copies. In Washington a drugstore manager thinks the Spillanes are "terrific - with women especially." In Dallas a wholesaler (who pronounces it "Spleen") says that Spillane is the greatest thing that ever happened to the newsstand business; "What we need is more Spleens."

* Accompanying this week's excerpts from the Fortune article are a broad sampling of mid-century paperback cover scans generously provided by one of my contacts on Flickr, UK Vintage. Many thanks Uilke!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Art of the Paper-Bounds: "... a mélange of sex and violence."

From Fortune magazine, September 1953:

Jacket illustrations, by and large, are a mélange of sex and violence.

A sort of jargon has arisen to distinguish plain sexy covers from "situation sex" (implied rather than overt) and from the few "down-sexed" or "un-sexed" covers. Some manage to squeeze both sex and sadism into the same picture.

The demands of the machine have led the paper-bound publisher to rely on the sure-fire salability of sex and sadism - and that involves him with the problem of censorship.

Retailers agree with publishers that for quick-quantity sale, the best book can be sold by its cover. "The worse the titles are the more they'll sell. Just what the censors object to is the kind of books the public is looking for. That's the way people are, and the only thing you can do is give them what they want."

"Decent literature" groups in scores of communities visit retailers to persuade them to clean up their racks, usually with the implied threat of boycott. Chief among these groups is the National Organization for Decent Literature, which publishes a list of disapproved books and a manual of instruction for local chapters.

The decent-literature campaign itself demonstrates that the paper-bounds have stimulated a new awareness of books in the mass market.

Books that have been on sale in hard covers for several years are coming under organized attack for the first time. In Brooklyn, decent-literature groups sought to ban, among others, three three William Faulkner titles (Sanctuary, Soldier's Pay, and The Wild Palms).

In Cleveland the titles that ran into the most trouble were Freud's General Introduction to Psychoanalysis, The Golden Ass of Apuleius, Somerset Maugham's Cakes and Ale...

... Lucy Freeman's story of a psychoanalysis, Fight against Fear, and John Steinbeck's The Wayward Bus.

In Denver an independent distributor pulled thirty-seven titles out of circulation, ranging from Sexual Feelings in Married Men and Women and Here Is My Body to Zola's Nana.

In defense, paper-bound publishers, besides crying "freedom of the press," point to what they call "bookish" accomplishments such as the New American Library's Mentor non-fiction line and its New World Writing series. Pocket Books has brought to market titles like Thomas Mann's Buddenbrooks, Immortal Poems of the English Language, and A Tale of Two Cities. Some of these issues, including also the English Penguin books... are more trade books than like ordinary paper-bounds.

Their distribution is more specialized and centers, for the most part, around colleges and what N.A. L.'s Weybright calls "more sophisticated communities."

But these form a relatively small and unsubstantial part of paper-bound publishing. The bread and butter is still the big, fast seller. New American library is a good example of this. Its Mickey Spillane titles last year sold more than six million copies, which, Fortune estimates, accounted for about a sixth of its total Signet volume. They are all sex and sadism.

Weybright, who prides himself on N.A.L.'s bookishness, becomes impatient when Spillane is mentioned and thinks perhaps too much attention is being devoted to him. "The Spillane books," says Weybright, "are a unique form of 'Americana,' a new kind of folklore, and therefore come within the ken of N.A.L.'s slogan, 'Good Reading for the Millions.' I won't apologize for Spillane."

* Accompanying this week's excerpts from the Fortune article are a broad sampling of mid-century paperback cover scans generously provided by one of my contacts on Flickr, UK Vintage. Many thanks Uilke!

Paper-Bounds: "Give the people what they want"

From Fortune magazine, September 1953:

Paper-bound publishers say their market is made up mostly of people who used to read only magazines, who are intimidated by the forbidding air of a bookstore, and who can afford perhaps a small fraction of the price of most new hard-cover books.

They buy and read on the move, picking books off a rack or newsstand to read while commuting or traveling or during a frenzied day of changing diapers and making meals. They are impulse buyers who pick books at point of sale, and after reading them, throw them away or pass them on to someone else. Few paper-bound buyers, say the publishers, want to keep the books as personal possessions or "furniture."

Like the trade publishers, the paper-bound publisher spurns market research and puts his trust in the seat of his pants, or "editorial flair" as it is called in the trade. A paper-bound editor [says], "We've got enough 'questionaires' out in the form of our books. Why should we ask them what they want when they already tell us by what they buy?"

The paper-bound publisher's listening post is the display rack. And the vivid packages thereon will show that there isn't much confusion in the publisher's mind about the buying impulses of most paper-bound readers.

The aim of the package design is to capture the darting eye and interest of the man in motion. Primary components are the jacket illustration, the title, and the "skyline" (blurb above the title). The blurb may promise: "Vengeance and passion in exotic Malaya:; "A savage novel of forbidden love." On Voltaire's Candide: "He chased a virtuous maiden through Europe's most bawdy age."

To stay on the newsstands, the paper-bound publisher has to supply titles that sell and sell fast. The publisher generally has to agree with Fawcett's editorial director, Ralph Daigh, that a "book is usually a good book if the public buys it in quantity" - but with the added proviso that it be bought in a hurry.

Says one wholesaler: "For places like terminals and hotels where there is constant traffic, it doesn't matter. But in the small neighborhood store, the same people go in day in and day out. If its not what they want the first week, they'll never read it. It seems like the little guy wants new books every day."

* Accompanying this week's excerpts from the Fortune article are a broad sampling of mid-century paperback cover scans generously provided by one of my contacts on Flickr, UK Vintage. Many thanks Uilke!

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Rise of the "Paper-Bounds"

A September 1953 article in Fortune magazine begins, "The old and gently bred book-publishing business has exploded into the U.S.'s newest mass-marketing phenomenon: the pocket-sized paper-bound. In more than a 100,000 newsstands, supermarkets, drug and variety stores the brightly jacketed paper-bounds are making a robustly successful bid for a place in U.S. buying habits."

Interesting as a glance into an important moment in the history of the book publishing industry... but what is its relevance to us, as illustrators and enthusiasts of mid-century illustration? For one thing, its a way of hammering home the point that the advent of the 'paper-bound' presented illustrators with an unprecedented new market for their talents. All those covers needed artwork, and some of the most talented illustrators of the day stepped forward to stake out their territory.

As well, it gives us an opportunity to reflect on the cyclical nature of this industry and how important it is for us to be aware of that dynamic. With the recent arrival of the Kindle and the iPad, do we find ourselves once more standing on the threshold of another revolution in the mass-marketing of the written word?

And if so, how will that revolution impact us? Will we be ready to reap the rewards - as the illustrators of the mid-century were - or will we be further marginalized as many (myself included) feel we have been (especially in the last decade).

The Fortune article describes an "overhauling [of] production, distribution, and merchandising of books" and how "paper-bound publishers have found gold in neglected markets."

"It is a market that has shown both an unsurprising taste for titillation and a startling desire for information and 'culture'."

Doesn't this all sound uncannily familiar?

We've looked at paperback cover art before, but this time we'll delve a little deeper into the history, motivations and market statistics of the last great revolution in the mass-marketing of the printed word. It is my hope that in the process we'll gain a better understanding of where we've been and where we are going as graphic arts professionals.

* Accompanying selected excerpts from the Fortune article will be a broad sampling of mid-century paperback cover scans generously provided by one of my contacts on Flickr, UK Vintage. Many thanks Uilke!

*ALSO* Be sure to visit Female Illustrators of the Mid-20th Century for an important announcement of what sounds like a terrific exhibition coming up at Parson's that will include work by Lorraine Fox, Esta Nesbitt, and Andree Golbin.