Friday, April 26, 2013

The Revolutionary Effect of the Paperback Book

This simple innovation transformed the reading habits of an entire nation. 

From a story on Smithsonian...

 De Graff revolutionized that market when he got backing from Simon & Schuster to launch Pocket Books in May 1939. A petite 4 by 6 inches and priced at a mere 25 cents, the Pocket Book changed everything about who could read and where. Suddenly people read all the time, much as we now peek at e-mail and Twitter on our phones. And by working with the often gangster-riddled magazine-distribution industry, De Graff sold books where they had never been available before—grocery stores, drugstores and airport terminals. Within two years he’d sold 17 million.

“They literally couldn’t keep up with demand,” says historian Kenneth C. Davis, who documented De Graff’s triumph in his book Two-Bit Culture. “They tapped into a huge reservoir of Americans who nobody realized wanted to read.”

Other publishers rushed into the business. And, like all forms of new media, pocket-size books panicked the elites. Sure, some books were quality literature, but the biggest sellers were mysteries, westerns, thinly veiled smut—a potential “flood of trash” that threatened to “debase farther the popular taste,” as the social critic Harvey Swados worried. But the tumult also gave birth to new and distinctly American literary genres, from Mickey Spillane’s gritty detective stories to Ray Bradbury’s cerebral science fiction.

The financial success of the paperback became its cultural downfall.

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