All Things Printed & Recorded: Paperbacks – Judge Them By Their Cover

EDITOR’S NOTE: This year in our HPB calendar, we’re celebrating all things printed and recorded—and played, solved, watched, etc. In other words, all the cool stuff we buy and sell in our stores. For July, we’re going way back to cover the history of the paperback.

Penguin Waugh

DID YOU KNOW?

  • The modern paperback was born in 1935 with the hit debut of Penguin in the United Kingdom. Founder Allen Lane’s goal was to sell affordable, high-quality books to the masses in places like train stations. Their minimalistic, type-driven cover designs, color-coded by genre, became iconic.
  • Inexpensive paperbound books called dime novels were published in the US starting in 1860. Their British counterparts were called penny dreadfuls.
  • In 1939, Pocket Books launched in the US with 10 titles priced at 25¢ each. By comparison, a hardback might cost a few dollars. Pocket sold their books in subway stations, newsstands and drugstores, reaching new readers and forever changing the bookselling industry.
  • Soldier in circleSmall enough to fit in a uniform pocket, paperback books were carried by soldiers in World War II. One writer noted that “if the back trouser pocket bulged in that way,” it indicated that the soldier was a reader.

TIMELINE
17th cent.  Early softcover books are printed in Europe.
1935  Penguin publishes its first paperback, Ariel, a biography of Percy Shelley.
1938  The first US paperback, Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth, is released by Pocket and sold at Macy’s as a test.
1950  Using the brand Gold Medal Books, Fawcett begins publishing original fiction in paperback, as opposed to reprinting titles originally released in hardback.
1960  Sales of paperbacks pass those of hardcover books.

stack of paperbacksWant to dive deeper? Check out these great products!

book Reading the West: An Anthology of Dime Westerns, ed. Bill Brown
book Classic Penguin: Cover to Cover, by Paul Buckley, ed.
book Penguin By Design: A Cover Story, 1935–2005, by Phil Baines
book When Books Went to War: The Stories that Helped Us Win World War II, by Molly Guptill Manning
book Two-Bit Culture: The Paperbacking of America, by Kenneth Davis & Joann Giusto-Davis
book Paperbacks From Hell: The Twisted History of ‘70s and ‘80s Horror Fiction, by Grady Hendrix
slate_film-512 Paperback Dreams , directed by Alex Beckstead

 

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