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Brief History of the Paperback Mass Market

Pine trees next to a North Carolina pond

Paper comes from many sources including trees.

This whole new e-book/tree book thing is sure taking on a life of its own, especially as the sales of the electronic works gains ground on the ever-popular paperback book. Even so, those with a personal stake in the situation should remember or be reminded that paperback books have not been around all that long. In fact, the publication of large numbers of books with soft paper covers is basically a post WWII phenomena.

Although other publishers had produced a soft cover book before, Penguin, a British publisher was still the first to really market large-scale editions of paperback books. And even so, the post-war development of this phase of book publishing was definitely preceded by an experimental US Army program, which made paperback books available to overseas soldiers during the war.

Anyway after the war, paperback publishing was picked up by American companies, like Ballantine, Bantam, Signet and Avon – and from that point on it really flourished. Paperbacks drastically cut the price on a hardcover from 2 or 3 dollars down to the 25 to 50 cent range. Even so, main line bookstores like Brentano in NY still did a good business selling hard cover editions into the 60s.

Mmmm,- Maybe history does repeat itself.

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