See, I went looking for the top ten bestsellers of 2009 (I’d accidentally thrown my People magazine away.) It’s not that easy finding the top ten (notice how I emphasized the word the?) I found personal lists; I found lists that didn’t agree. I found the white list, the black list, the children’s list. I found a list that actually had the same book on it twice! Pretty soon I didn’t want to see any more lists. Then, as I was perusing the top 50 list (Yes, I found another list) for 2009, I stumbled upon the history of the paperback.
This info comes from the link below, but I’ve paraphrased and summarized to my little heart’s content. http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/books/fiction/article6847448.ece
Don’t think about the Dime Novel. It may count as the first paperback but that would be like comparing a tricycle to a mountain bike. The story you are about to read has to do with a man named Allen Lane. Picture your town in the 1930’s. No cell phones, no televisions, no computers. People read for entertainment. Anyhoo, in the 1930's Alan Lane was returning to his hometown from visiting Agatha Christie (Isn’t that soooo cool) and apparently he was at a bookstall looking for something to read and he was dismayed by the cost of the books (yes, I’ve had that feeling too about hardbacks and even some paperbacks).
He had an idea. Yup, you guessed it: affordable books.
Here’s a direct quote:
It is quite clear that the time has come to wake up to the fact that people want
books, that they want good books, and that they are willing, even anxious, to
buy them if they are presented to them in a straightforward, intelligent manner
at a cheap price
Sounds a whole lot like today, huh?
Apparently the people in the book world didn’t think too highly of the idea. And, they were pretty sure his venture would fail, and while it was failing, it would tarnish the reputation of the hardback world.
Lane had trouble getting the rights to the books he wanted to publish. Most refused him, and the one guy who did agree to work with him only did so because he assumed Lane would pay for the rights (which he did) and then go out of business – money spent, business gone, bye bye.
Guess who saved the day. Woolworths. Cool, huh? They ordered the paperbacks to sell in their store. People bought the paperbacks. Woolworths ordered a lot (really, really a lot) and Lane made not just one boatload of money, but at least ten boatloads of money.
And the paperback and its reader lived happily ever after.