New American Library’s Signet Classics


  I pretty much grew up in the book business. While in high school I worked at a local used bookstore after school, on weekends, and during holidays. Mostly, I stocked and re-stocked paperbacks, helped customers, looked up titles in a 10 pound copy of Books in Print that the owner of the store had managed to pick up somewhere, and put mylar covers on hardcover dustjackets.  I didn’t make much - $1.65/hour - but I enjoyed the work. The fact is, most of the money I made went back into buying books. 

alphabooks pay stub


I remember marveling at the fact that customers would buy hardcover books when perfectly adequate paperback editions were available. I didn’t really have much of an appreciation at the time for any kind of notion of a “first edition” either.

I worked at Alphabooks for years off and on before eventually finding myself employed by what was then the B. Dalton/Pickwick chain first in El Cajon, CA and later in Encino, CA. From there I got a job in the general book department of the UCLA Bookstore, and after moving to San Francisco I wound up at the retail chain Crown Books (“Books Cost Too Much”).

Thankfully a job opened up with the mass market publisher Pocket Books in the Bay Area. The Pocket regional manager remembered me as a buyer at UCLA (he had actually been my sales rep and sold me books). I lasted a little more than a year at Pocket, during which time there were 2 or 3 major management changes, pretty typical for those days. At one point the Pocket reps even got a new name. We were rechristened "The Simon and Schuster Mass Merchandise Sale Force." That of course did not last long, and the yahoos who initiated that rebranding were gone from the company even before I was.

At the American Booksellers Association convention (the precursor to the Book Expo of America - BEA) in San Francisco in 1985 the big commercial books that year were James Michener's TEXAS, Harold Robbins’ JOE CROWN, Cynthia Freeman’s SEASONS OF THE HEART, Charles Schulz’s YOU DON'T LOOK 35, CHARLIE BROWN!, Jean Auel’s THE MAMMOTH HUNTERS, George Burns’ DEAR GEORGE, and Howard Fast’s IMMIGRANT'S DAUGHTER. Carl Sagan had two book offerings for the Fall of 1985 - a nonfiction book from Random House entitled COMET, and CONTACT, a novel from Simon & Schuster.

New American Library had recently purchased hardcover publisher E. P. Dutton,  the Wheatland Corporation (controlled by Ann Getty and George Weidenfeld) now owned Grove Press, Random House bought  Times Books, Simon & Schuster purchased Prentice-Hall, Macmillan in a feeding frenzy bought Scribner's, Atheneum, and Rawson Associates, in addition to the remains of Bobbs-Merrill, which it liquidated as quickly as it could. The consolidation of publishing was in full swing. 

Bill Targ, former editor for World Publishing Company and G. P. Putnam’s  Sons described the new corporate masters of American publishing as “megalomaniacs and wheeler-dealers” and “market analysts with slide rules up their arses and a power glint in their eyes.”

It was at the ABA convention in San Francisco that I was courted by the regional sales manager for New American Library, a man named Allan Wolfe. He wanted to hire me away from Pocket Books. I was thrilled at the prospect. I might have a chance to sell the Signet Classics. I had grown up with those books, and even though I was at the time a bit of a Penguin Classics snob, I strongly appreciated the Signet Classic line and was excited that I might have the opportunity to sell it into bookstores.

Of course, I made the jump to NAL, and of course they did not offer me anything additional in terms of salary to do so (NAL was always cheap). I knew I was a sucker, but I didn’t care. I was out of Pocket and into classics.

The widespread use of computers was not yet upon us, but the numbers on the printouts that came from the computer room were akin to gospel, so I would have to say that by the time that I came to NAL as a sales rep in 1985, the only change that I would have to make to Targ’s description of new corporate masters of American publishing cited earlier would be to substitute “slide rules” with “computer printouts.” The sales force in those days still consisted of a lot of old-timers, many of whom had worked on the ID (Independent Distributor, those who handled mostly magazine distribution) side of the business. Those fellows (and they all men) had lots of stories to share with anyone who wanted to listen (and even for those who didn’t) about drinking, wheeling and dealing, and the challenges of dealing with the colorful and difficult personalities who populated the ID side of the business. The stories sounded more like Mafia tales than anything connected to bookselling. I remember one ID sales rep who used to bring a gun to sales conference and sleep with it under his pillow. When his roommate came in late one night (in those days, only the big job title “position” folks got their own rooms, the rest of us were forced to share a room, with whomever the company decided to pair us with), he was greeted with the barrel of a gun in his face.

It was my good fortune to come into the industry as a sales rep at the exact time when the sales at drugstores and other non-book outlets were in decline. While still with Pocket Books I did have the exquisite pleasure of servicing a number of variety stores, including Woolworth’s. This would involve me writing an order, adding up both the retail and net dollar totals on an adding machine, and then submitting that order. No buyer was required, but I did have to come back when the order arrived and place the books on the racks. When I made my return trip to "rack" the books, I would generally move all of the Dell books to the bottom of the wire rack and put my books at the top. When the Dell rep came in he would do the same to my books. The trick was to figure out when the Dell rep made an appearance and then come in as soon as I could after that. I was thankful when that part of the business dried up, especially after I came into conflict with a Woolworth’s manager who wanted to know why I did not wear a tie when I called on them. I had to tell him that it was not my custom to wear a tie when I called on Woolworth’s. That did not go over well. I was lucky though, because had this been a few years earlier, I likely faced more serious reprecussions from my employers. By the time I got to NAL, this part of the business was on its way out.

signet mark twain bookmark


While at NAL, I sold a lot of Signet Classics. In my used book travels (used books have always been my first love in the book world), I would seek out old edition of Signet Classics, particularly those that did not exist as such anymore, titles like:

Adventures In The Skin Trade by Dylan Thomas

The Duel and Selected Stories by Alexander Kuprin

The Queen of Spades and Other Tales by Alexander Pushkin

Specimen Days by Walt Whitman

The Golovlovs by M. Saltykov-Shchedrin

The Golden Serpent by Ciro Alegria

The Celtic Twilight and A Selection of Early Poems by W.B. Yeats

The Marquis of O-- and Other Stories by Heinrich von Kleist

The Restlessness of Shanti Andia and Selected Stories by Pio Baroja

La Salle and The Discovery of The Great West by Francis Parkman

Confessions of Felix Krull, Confidence Man by Thomas Mann

Burmese Days by George Orwell

Lyubka The Cossack and Other Stories by Isaac Babel

The Merry-Go-Round of Love and Selected Stories by Luigi Pirandello

Selected Prose and Poetry of Giacomo Leopardi


signet classics23    


Can you imagine a mass market publisher doing these books today?

It was not long before I had amassed a small collection of these gems, but then I had to wonder – what about any that I might not know about?  Of course, that led to me creating a listing in series number order of every Signet Classics that I could find.

My list was missing a lot of information, so I contacted Gayle Greeno in the NAL office. At the time I believe that she had something to do with educational sales. She went on to become a best-selling DAW fantasy author. Gayle thought I was crazy, but she was kind enough to provide me with a printout of the entire Signet Classics list, numbers 1 through 1000. That was like the Holy Grail for me. I used the information from the printout to build a more comprehensive list.

After a time I left NAL, which had since become Penguin in the continuing series of publishing purchases/mergers. Periodically though, I updated my listing of Signet Classics, and eventually included more descriptive material, and even images. It still amazes me that the Signet Classics line managed to publish so many terrific books in a business environment that could not always have been very hospitable to such a project, particularly after the early days of the series. I can only imagine the history of the project as that of a few truly visionary individuals somehow getting their projects past the “money” men of the company to achieve something really revolutionary in paperback publishing.        

Reclam Bucher As early as 1836 British companies were producing cheap “yellowback” books, mostly reprints, for a mass audience of readers as literary rates rose in England. Publishers in Germany, mostly notably Reclam of Leipzig, created their own cheap paper reprint editions with their Universal-Bibliothek mass market series in 1867. Reclam also became the first company to introduce book vending machines to Germany.

While the 19th century brought numerous improvements in the printing, publishing and book-distribution processes, particularly with the introduction of such technology as the steam-powered printing presses, pulp mills, automatic type-setting, and a network of railways, it wasn’t until the German publisher Albatross Books streamlined the paperback format in 1931 that the real seeds of a 20th century paperback revolution were truly sown. Albatross came up with a new standardized size (181 x 111 mm), and used sans-serif fonts designed by British typographer Stanley Morison. They also color-coded their titles by according to genre. The series was very successful for Albatross Books until the advent of World War II put an end to their publishing experiment. In 1935 however, Penguin Books adopted many of Albatross' innovations, including a conspicuous logo and color-coded covers for different genres. British publisher Allen Lane launched the Penguin Books imprint in 1935 with only ten reprint titles and began a paperback revolution in the English-language book-market. Lane’s ambition was to produce inexpensive books and sell a lot of them.


After purchasing paperback rights from publishers, Lane would do what were then large print runs, sometimes as many as 20,000 copies of a book. It was all part of his strategy to keep his unit cost low. Booksellers were a little skeptical of the new format a first, so Lane explored non-traditional market, like department stores, including Woolworth’s. It didn’t take long for the idea to catch on and as bookstores began carrying Lane’s books, "Penguin" became closely associated with the word "paperback.”

Robert de Graaf created Pocket Books in partnership with Simon & Schuster in 1939 and “pocket book” synonymous with the paperback in the United States.  The biggest difference of substance between Penguin and Pocket Books was probably their different approach to cover treatments. De Graaf also aimed for a broad appeal and utilized the magazine and newspaper distribution networks to reach that audience.


penguin logoBritish Penguins opened an office in New York in July of 1939, tasked with importing Penguins and Pelicans to the United States. They started with 100 British Penguin, a staff of two, and hired a young American to direct the branch named Ian Ballantine.

Given that the imports first needed to come from England to New York, and then be distributed to American booksellers, the American Penguin office found themselves at a serious disadvantage in terms of getting and keeping the right titles in stock to fill demand. They needed an effective system of distribution akin to what Pocket Books had already created. It was necessary to choose titles carefully when it came to importing.

Penguin grew slowly, a little too slowly for Allen Lane, the head of British Penguin, who was not entirely impressed with Ballantine’s results. He reached out to Kurt Enoch, who had escaped the Nazis in Germany, and made him the vie-president of Penguin Books, Inc.  In 1943 Enoch hired Gobin Stair to oversee production and design. Stair in turn hired a number of illustrators like H. Lawrence Hoffman and Lester Kohs to produce cover of good taste and relative modesty, but still different than the British Penguin which at the time consisted exclusively of typographical styled covers. These new cover treatments did not please Allen Lane, who thought the cover art perhaps a little too garish. The true is that nearly all of the other paperback publishers at the time were producing covers with more innovative artwork, and Ballantine and Enoch did not think that the strictly typographical cover had a chance of selling in the States. They were simply too different from their competition, and not in a good way. A split with Penguin in England was inevitable. Enoch had hired a cover artist named Robert Jonas, who designed the cover of Erskine Caldwell’s TROUBLE IN JULY in 1945. Jonas had strong beliefs about balancing social consciousness with art and had an enormous impact on the artwork of the American Penguins of that time.

Also in 1945, Ian Ballantine left the American branch of Penguin to start Bantam Books and Victor Weybright became part of Penguin’s management. While the relationship with British Penguin was a decent one, Kurt Enoch and Victor Weybright decided in 1948 start their own publishing company, the New American Library of World Literature, Inc. (NAL), and Signet books made their first appearance in the summer of 1948.


 They broke their ties with British Penguin and after a short period where a few “Penguin Signets” and “Penguin Mentors” still appeared, dropped “Penguin” from the imprint names altogether. Mentor Books, as a quality line of nonfiction (their slogan "Good Reading for the Millions."), was most certainly an outgrowth of Pelican in the UK, as the Signet Classics line became the American version of the Penguin Classic.

Victor Weybright had his fans and his detractors. He no doubt had vision. Andre Schiffren called him “ a flamboyant man who gloried in his snobberies and pretensions,” who managed to surround himself with talented editors. Schiffrin also noted Weybright’s “unmitigated anti-Semitism” in his THE BUSINESS OF BOOKS published in 2000 by Verso. E. L. Doctorow, when a NAL editor, had this to say regarding Weybright – “He had a good restless mind and loved to wheel and deal.” On the other hand Weybright was in his estimation susceptible to people who knew that Weybright had aspirations to “be one of the ‘big boys’.”

Kurt Enoch received better treatment by Schiffren, perhaps because Enoch was the one who actually hired Schiffren. Enoch was described as a “small, trim, very shy, and a model German intellectual,” who had an early understanding of the importance of the paperback, perhaps because he had been one of the founders of Albatross in Germany

Weybright clearly had a good editorial eye. In addition to bringing Mickey Spillane and Ian Fleming’s James Bond books to NAL’s and insuring the company’s commercial position in the industry, his decision to publish a number of African-American authors of the day , including William Motley, Richard Wright, William Gardener Smith, Chester Himes, Ann Petry, and Ralph Ellison, was visionary.

   signet african american titles

The Signet list was not only a commercial success. They received critical praise for the list of important author that they had assembled, including works by William Faulkner, James T. Farrell, George Orwell, Arthur Koestler, D. H. Lawrence, Jack Kerouac, Ayn Rand, Ken Kesey, Sinclair Lewis, Margaret Mead, John Kenneth Galbraith, Paul Bowles, Curzio Malaparte, Alberto Moravia, and J. D. Salinger. All this and they still produced plenty of westerns and other genre titles too. 

   signet literature

   At one point Robert Jonas, designer and artist, stopped illustrating Signet Westerns and started producing most of the covers (more than 95% through the 1950s) of the Mentor covers. He was also responsible for the typography of the Signet covers. By the mid-1950s both Signet and Mentor covers had been given a more modern look under the direction of Bill Gregory, who replaced John Legakes as art director in 1961. It was Gregory who would produce new colophons and brought a brand new look to New American Library’s line of Signet Classics with launched in 1959.

signet colophon

By 1960 most of the paperback publishing house were producing public domain classic geared to a school audience, both secondary and college. Many of these lines were clearly influenced by the British Penguin and Pelicans, and cover artists like Edward Gorey (Anchor) and Leonard Baskin (Vintage) were highly sought after.

signet classics24 The Signet Classics line had a reputation for success with their cover illustrations by employing a variety of artists, many of whom had never illustrated book covers before, but were well known as illustrators. Milton Glaser designed the Signet Classics Shakespeare series and received a number of awards for his cover artwork.   

When the first Signet Classics were published, NAL was at a peak of their financial success. Even though both Bantam and Pocket Books had their own lines of classics, the Signet Classics line quickly became the dominant mass market publisher of classics.

signet classic logo


Before starting at Pantheon, the small publisher that his father Jacques Schiffrin had started, Andre Schiffrin worked for New American Library. According to Andre Schiffren in his book THE BUSINESS OF BOOKS, it was a memo that he wrote to editor Arabel Porter suggesting possibilities for the first Signet Classics that helped to spark a favorable response to the idea and led to the publishing of the series.


mentor new world writing  Arabel Porter was considered something of a “high priestess among young writers,” and was described as a quiet and unpretentious intellectual. She was the force behind New American Library’s New World Writing literary magazine, published between 1952 and 1959, which was  modeled partly on John Lehmann’s Penguin New Writing , published in England from 1940-1950.   New World Writing was published in fifteen biannual issues and featured works of fiction, drama, essays, and poetry by new and leading writers from around the world. Contributors included Gore Vidal, Flannery O’Connor, Jack Kerouac, W. H. Auden, James Baldwin, Samuel Beckett, Saul Bellow, Jorge Luis Borges, Bertolt Brecht, E. E. Cummings, Jean Genet, André Gide, Christopher Isherwood, Norman Mailer, Pablo Picasso, Kenneth Rexroth, William Carlos Williams, Upton Sinclair, Wallace Stevens, Eugène Ionesco, Octavio Paz and Tennessee Williams. The corrected typescript of "Catch-18" by Joseph Heller, which eventually became the first chapter of Catch-22,  was originally published in issue #7. According to her boss, Victor Weybright, Arabel J. Porter was ‘a Bohemian Quakeress, with inspired eyes and ears which seem to see and hear all the significant manifestations of the literary, dramatic and graphic arts.’ Marc Jaffe referred to her thusly – “She was a very warm person,” and he added that she was sensitive to the words on a page.




sc adolpheConsidering that the very first Signet Classic turned out to be a book that Schiffren proposed, the 19th century French classic Adolphe and the Red Notebook by Benjamin Constant (CD1), I would say that Andre Schiffren can indeed lay claim to being a major player in the creation of the Classics series.

“In these two remarkable works, a brilliant, vain, long - suffering Frenchman describes the first twenty years of his life and their culmination in a tortured love affair with an older, possessive woman of the world. Benjamin Constant attempted to conceal the fact that these two books were autobiographical. But to his familiars, it was clear that he himself was Adolphe. And in the intimate account of his strange liaison with Ellénore, he may well have been protesting against his inexorable bondage to his fiery, demanding mistress, Madame de Staël. Constant was an able parliamentarian, a champion of liberalism and the author of the History of Religion. But posterity remembers him as the man who bared the anatomy of a destructive passion in the story of Adolphe.”

NAL also published new editions of classic works — for example, a Shakespeare series — which featured renowned scholars, editors, and translators; many of these editions were oriented toward high school and college readership. Even before the acquisition by Times Mirror, Victor Weybright had been interested in creating a well-edited series of Shakespeare’s plays. He contacted Sylvan Barnet of Tufts University and over a bowl of corn flakes and coffee they came up with a tentative deal where Barnet would serve as the general editor of the Signet Classics Shakespeare series and find other specific editors for each individual volume. There is little doubt that the Signet Classics Shakespeare series was created partly to directly compete with Pocket’s Folger Library editions of Shakespeare’s plays.


signet classics shakespeare

Signet even at one point had plans to publish a Signet Classic edition of CATCHER IN THE RYE by J. D. Salinger, but that wound up getting scuttled due to Salinger’s displeasure with deliberations over the paperback cover of the book. He also didn’t want a foreword or an afterword, even if it was by a notable critic. It didn’t help that such an amazingly popular author refused to allow his picture on earlier paperback editions. There was even a suggestion to have a line drawing made of Salinger much like the author portraits that appeared on the front free endpaper accompanying a short biographical piece of each Signet Classic, particularly in the earlier editions. That wasn’t going to fly with Salinger. An internal memo from August 17, 1959) signed by both Truman Talley and Peter Gruenthal settled it, “Please drop Catcher in the Rye from the February, 1960 list of Signet Classics. This title will probably not reappear on future Signet Classic lists due to unusual author-trade publisher-NAL relationship.” Coincidentally, that same month saw the publication of the inaugural batch of the Signet Classics line. Salinger went on to Bantam who publishes him to this day. The rather nondescript typographical covers of the Bantam edition were of course designed by Salinger himself.

In 1959, paperbacks were distributed to the 4,000 bookstore covering the United States at the time and through what were called ID (Independent Distributors) wholesalers, to the many non-bookstore accounts across the country – newsstands, drug stores, grocery stores, etc., numbering over 70,000 outlets. The ID wholesalers grew out of the old magazine distribution network that had come into being during Prohibition to distribute racing forms, and quite possibly alcohol itself. They started with magazines, but as the paperback revolution took hold, they began distributing books as well. Returns were high with the IDs though, so the risk was great even though the payoff could be substantial when a title worked for them.    

With Kurt Enoch devoting himself to the business end of NAL – production, sales, and distribution – and Victor Weybright focusing on the editorial aspects, NAL was not only receiving the praise for readers, critics, and educators, they had become a very profitable publisher. NAL had achieved that balance between commercialism and editorial excellence, and by the late 1950s NAL had grown to be the largest paperback house in the country. 

To secure NAL’s future Enoch and Weybright decided that the best way was for the company to go public. They made overtures to Times Mirror, and a final agreement between the two parties went into effect on March 24, 1960. The merger had positive results for Times Mirror immediately, meaning that their stock rose. Unfortunately though, tensions between Enoch and Weybright increased, leading to Weybright’s eventual resignation from NAL.   

The continual corporate interference in matters editorial however led both Victor Weybright and Truman Talley to leave the company in 1966. Publishing had entered the era of the corporate manager. Many of the most talented of the NAL editorial staff wound up leaving as a result – E. L. Doctorow to Dial press, Arabel Porter to Houghton Mifflin, and Marc Jaffe to Bantam.

New American Library changed ownership hands three times over a period of 27 years. In 1960 Times Mirror of Los Angeles owned by the Chandler family and publishers of the Los Angeles Times, bought NAL (at the time the second ranking paperback publisher in size and power). Although NAL supposedly operated autonomously within the Mirror Company structure, and NAL's management remained unchanged, they were soon to become just another mass market line. In the 1970s President of New American Library Herbert K. Schnall said that “it almost doesn’t pay to buy something for under $100,000,” reflecting a more corporate mentality towards acquisitions.

In 1983 Odyssey Partners and Ira J. Hechler bought NAL from the Times Mirror Company for over $50 million. In 1987, the NAL was reintegrated by purchase into the Penguin Publishing Company, its original parent company. On February 22, 1985 NAL announced its purchase of E. P. Dutton, and in 1986 Peter Mayer, chief executive officer of Penguin Publishing announced Penguin’s purchase of NAL. As NAL’s CEO, Robert Diforio said in a speech to the sales force at the time, “We’ve come home again.” It sounded about as corny as much of what came out of Bob Diforio’s mouth when he was on stage, but he was right.



Sources cited –




Baines, Phil. Penguin By Design: A Cover Story 1935-2005. New York. 2005. Penguin Books. 255 pages. 9780141024233

 9780141024233 The extraordinary story of Penguin coven and their rich and diverse design heritage. Ever since the creation of the first Penguin paperbacks in 1935, their jackets have become a constantly evolving part of Britain’s culture and design history. Rich with stunning illustrations and filled with details of individual titles, designers and even the changing size and shape of the Penguin logo itself, this book shows how covers become in design classics. By looking back at seventy years of Penguin paperbacks, Phil Baines charts the development of British publishing, book-cover design and the role of artists and designers in creating and defining the Penguin look. Coupling in-depth analysis of designers - from Jan Tschichold to Romek Marber - with a broad survey of the range of series and titles published - from early Penguins and Pelicans, to wartime and 1960s Specials, Classics, fiction and reference - this is a distinctive picture of how Penguin has consistently established its identity through its covers, influenced by – and influencing - the wider development of graphic design and the changing fashions in typography, photography, illustration and printing techniques. Filled with inspiring images, PENGUIN BY DESIGN demonstrates just how difficult it is not to judge a book by its cover. Phil Baines was born in Kendal, Westmorland, in 1958. He graduated from St Martin’s School of Art in 1985 and the Royal College of Art in 1987, and has been a Senior Lecturer at Central Saint Martin’s College of Art & Design since 1991. He is author and designer of TYPE & TYPOGRAPHY (with Andrew Haslam, 2002) and SIGNS: LETTERING IN THE ENVIRONMENT (with Catherine Dixon, 2003), both published by Laurence King. He is also a freelance graphic designer whose clients have included the Crafts Council, Goethe-Institut London, Matt’s Gallery and Monotype Typography. His work often includes the use of his own typefaces, three of which have been released for general use: Can You? (1991) and Ushaw (1994) by Fuse,and Vere Dignum by Linotype in 2003.


Bonn, Thomas L. Heavy Traffic & High Culture: New American Library as Literary Gatekeeper in the Paperback Revolution. Carbondale. 1989. Southern Illinois University Press. 241 pages. 0809314789

0809314789   This is a book about the magical names in literature, about the literary heritage of a nation balanced against a backdrop of big business; it is the story of New American library from 1946 to 1961 and of Victor Weybright, the publisher whose talismanic phrase, ‘luster and lucre,’ characterizes both the cultural and financial formu1a that guided this giant paperback house. The book is based on the editorial correspondence at NAL from the company’s beginning in 1945 until just after its purchase by the Times-Mirror Company. Generally ignoring financial, marketing, and production records, the files that form the core of this book concentrate on interoffice memoranda to and from editorial staff and feature letters to and from authors, agents, publishers, and readers. Bonn shows how Weybright and copublisher Kurt Enoch advanced NAL from a poor, scarcely tolerated relation - as were all paperback reprinters - in the publishing family to a prestigious, even proprietary publisher, initiating contracts and discovering new talent. By the middle of the l950s, many hardcover publishing houses were accepting original manuscripts based on their anticipated mass market paperback sales. Bonn employs the ‘gatekeeper’ theory of communication to account for much of NAL’s success, citing Weybright as chief gatekeeper. Explaining this theory as Weybright applied it, Bonn notes that ‘the tension on the gate’s spring is created by the cultural contribution the work is likely to make tempered by its projected balance sheet.’ Weybright brought harmony to the conflicting interests of culture vs. commerce; his goal was ‘heavy traffic, high culture’ or John Steinbeck, Tennessee Williams, William Faulkner, Truman Capote, Ernest Hemingway and others at the dimly remembered 25 cents per copy. Bonn focuses on Weybright’s dealings with Bennett Cerf and Random House, Charles Scribner’s Sons, Alfred A. Knopf, and other hardback houses to show how NAL acquired titles. In this book, notable for its previously unpublished correspondence by major figures, Bonn scores another triumph by examining the phenomenon of paperback abridgment. These letters reveal the reactions of James M. Cain, James Jones, and Robert Penn Warren when paperback economics killed as many as half of their words. Well-founded fear of censorship, these files reveal, consumed much money and time, yet of all of the books on the NAL list, only Erskine Caldwell’s God’s Little Acre was judged obscene in a courtroom. The works of James M. Cain were challenged, as were those of Faulkner, until he won his 1950 Nobel Prize. Weybright also faced a continuing battle with certain authors over paperback covers. The editor’s views as to what would sell books frequently conflicted with the opinions of his authors. William Styron acquiesced to Weybright with some grace, but the cover conflict between NAL and James T. Farrell was bitter; the rift between NAL and J. D. Salinger over covers for The Catcher in the Rye and Nine Stories grew so acrimonious that both sides lost when Salinger severed his relationship with the company. NAL published the great—William Faulkner, Norman Mailer, J. D. Salinger - and the big money-makers - Erskine Caldwell, Ian Fleming, Mickey Spillane. This ideal arrangement enabled the innovative paperback publishing company to make a profit even as it made a gigantic cultural contribution.


Bonn, Thomas L. Under Cover: An Illustrated History of American Mass Market Paperbacks. New York. 1982. Penguin Books. 144 pages. 0140060715

0140060715 Following the evolution of mass market publishing - cover to cover to cover - in this delightful celebration of paperback books. From the wonderfully lurid covers of the forties and fifties (featuring ‘fleshy female victims of mayhem and murder’) to today’s specialized genre styles, this fascinating history focuses on paperback covers - the crucial factor in catching the eye and selling the book. The splendid illustrations and the odd facts, colorful anecdotes, and insider’s insights make Under Cover a rare treat for pop-culture buffs, designers, collectors, and book people of all kinds.

Thomas L. Bonn, Librarian at the State University of New York, College at Cortland, is the author of Paperback Primer: A Guide for Collectors and Under Cover: An Illustrated History of American Mass Market Paperbacks.




Coser, Lewis A. / Kadushin, Charles / Powell, Walter W.. Books: The Culture & Commerce Of Publishing. New York. 1982. Basic Books. 411 pages. 0465007457

0465007457 In an industry perilously poised between the world of culture and the demands of commerce, who decides what America reads? Editors, media packagers, the heads of large corporations, or the intellectual community? This major work by a team of distinguished socio1ogists provides the first comprehensive examinations of book publishing in America - the people, the organizations, and the network of information and gossip - nor only for trade books and blockbusters, but for college texts, scholarly and monograph publishing, and university presses. Based on extensive field research in a variety of houses and on hundreds of interviews with editors, publishers, authors, agents, marketing and sales staffs, booksellers and book reviewers, BOOKS discusses the inside operation of publishing house and shows how key outsiders – literary agents, reviewers, and book chains as well as independent booksellers – can make or break a book’s (and an author’s) fortunes. The authors explode widely held publishing myths, explain editorial career paths, reveal the anomalous position of secretaries and assistants, and explore the role of women and their changing status. Special attention is paid to the deteriorating quality of author-publisher relations, and to whether authors can do anything about it. Presenting the big picture of the industry, BOOKS analyzes the mixed effects of the recent wave of publishing mergers. Though a historic al review suggests that publishers have always cared about the bottom line, the difference today is that editors no longer make all the key decisions. BOOKS is required reading for everyone interested in the book industry - as well as an exciting contribution to the sociology of ideas and organizations.  ‘A pioneering sociological panorama of American world of books, presented with unmistakable touch of its accomplished authors.’ - ROBERT K. MERTON, University Professor Emeritus and Special Service Professor, Department of Sociology, Columbia University. LEWIS A. COSER is Distinguished Professor of Sociology at SUNY, Stony Brook. He is the author of many hooks, including Men of ideas (1965), Greedy institutions (1974), and Masters of Sociological Thought (1979). CHARLES KADUSHIN- is Professor of Sociology at the Graduate Center, CUNY, and the author of several books, including The American Intellectual Elite (1974). WALTER W. POWELL is Assistant Profess or in the School of Organization and Management and Department of Sociology, Yale University, and the author of the forthcoming Getting into Print: The Decision Making Process in Scholarly Publishing (1982). He is also affiliated with Yale’s Institution for Social and Policy Studies, where he is studyi ng the financing of public television.


Davis, Kenneth C.. Two-Bit Culture: The Paperbacking Of America. Boston. 1984. Houghton Mifflin. 430 pages. 0395343984

0395343984 Dr. Spock, Betty Freidan, J. D. Salinger, Kurt Vonnegut, Jack Kerouac, Norman Mailer, John F. Kennedy, William Golding, D. H. Lawrence, J. R. R. Tolkien, Robert Rimmer, Kate Millett, Joseph Heller, Henry Miller - What is the single innovation in mass media that gave all these writers the ability to profoundly influence modern American culture? The paperback. Since their modest beginnings at the outset of World War II, inexpensive paperback books have grown into an eight-hundred-million-dollar-a-year industry and now overflow the country’s newsstands and bookshelves. From intellectually respectable classics such a Waiting for Godot, Lord of the Flies, and The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich to trendy novels like Peyton Place Love Story and Jonathan Livingston Seagull, paperbacks have had an unparalleled ability to shape the tastes and opinions of literate America. Kenneth C. Davis’s Two-Bit Culture chronicles the Paperback Revolution - the men and the women, the companies and the characters, that enabled American writers to find American readers by the millions.  Crammed with facts as well as gossip, Two-Bit Culture not only brings to life the history of the paperback but examines its present state and predicts where this fascinating business may be heading. ‘Must reading for anyone who wants to understand American publishing and popular culture since World War II. A sterling achievement.’ -  Marc Jaffe.


Schiffrin, Andre. The Business of Books: How International Conglomerates Took Over Publishing & Changed The Way We Read. New York. 2000. Verso. 181 pages. 1859847633

1859847633 Postwar American publishing has been ruthlessly transformed since André Schiffrin joined its ranks in 1956. Gone is a plethora of small but prestigious houses that often put ideas before profit in their publishing decisions, sometimes even deliberately. Now six behemoths share 80% of the market and profit margin is all. André Schiffrin can write about these changes with authority because he witnessed them from inside a conglomerate, as head of Pantheon, co-founded by his father bought (and sold) by Random House. And he can write about them with candor because he is no longer on the inside, having quit corporate publishing in disgust to setup a flourishing independent house, the New Press. Schiffrin’s evident affection for his authors sparkles throughout a story woven around publishing the work of those such as Studs Terkel, Noam Chomsky, Gunnar Myrdal, George Kennan, Juliet Mitchell, R.D.Laing, Eric Hobsbawm and E.P. Thompson. Part-memoir, part-history, here is an account of the collapsing standards of contemporary publishing that is irascible, acute and passionate. An engaging counterpoint to recent, celebratory memoirs of the industry written by those with more stock options and fewer scruples than Schiffrin, The Business of Books warns of the danger to adventurous, intelligent publishing in the bullring of today’s marketplace. André Schiffrin was, for thirty years, Publisher at Pantheon. He is the Director of the New Press, which he founded in 1993. He contributes a regular column on publishing to the Chronicle of Higher Education.


Schreuders, Piet. Paperbacks, U. S. A.: A Graphic History, 1939-1959 (Translated from the Dutch by Josh Pachter). San Diego. 1981. Blue Dolphin Enterprises. 259 pages.

paperbacks usa In this informative and entertaining description of the first 20 years of paperback history, the emphasis is on the way these early books looked, and especially on their covers: who made them, how they were produced, and how they changed over two decades. Piet Schreuders, editor and designer of two popular Dutch magazines (Furore and the Poezenkrant), spent five years researching the roots of this cultural phenomenon and found, besides shameless plagiarism, amateurish drawings and commercially-bred bad taste, a wealth of sensitive, human, original and unique design and art.





Weybright, Victor. The Making of a Publisher: A Life in the 20th Century Book Revolution. New York. 1967. Reynal & Company. 360 pages.


making of a publisher ‘When the story of The Paperback Revolution in America is one day told, it will be Victor Weybright’s THE MAKING OF A PUBLISHER that will serve as primary source material. Mr. Weybright was at the forefront of the rebellion to bring reading to everyone. And here, for the first time, performing as a Pepys of the paperback world, he opens locked doors and tells what went on inside the nobility, the pettiness, the triumphs, the failures, the Name publishers and authors one man’s truth about the movement to perpetuate the printed word against the forces of television and the machine. I recommend this memoir to everyone interested in books - publishers, editors, instructors, students - and Constant Readers.’ - Irving Wallace. This is the life story of a man who grew up in the Maryland countryside and whose zeal for learning and literature enabled him to become a leader in today’s book revolution. Although paperback books originally consisted largely of popular titles, he introduced books of genuine quality through The New American Library and changed the character and impact of low-priced publishing. One of the early influences in Mr. Weybright’s life was his experience at Hull House. During the war years he served in the American Embassy in London where he became well known in literary as well as political and social circles. After the war he returned to found his hugely successful publishing house. Throughout his life he has traveled widely and has come to know people of importance on both sides of the Atlantic who occupy a large part of this highly readable and always informative book. ‘I have read this with particular interest. Nobody has deserved better of the republic of letters than has Victor, a man who has combined a continuing sense of social responsibility with inventiveness in the book world, considerable daring in the discovery and promotion of young talent, and services to his government and to the Western world over and beyond the call of duty. I have read the book with a combination of interest and sorrow. The interest arises from the revelations of publishing history it contains nobody can ask a better introduction to the history of the paperback book revolution — and sorrow about its ending.’ - Howard Mumford Jones.






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