Origin of Books: Part Two

In my blog post entitled Origin of Books I ended at the date 1832 which was the invention of the book sleeve. I want to revisit the timeline and continue talking about everything that happened after that date. Basically, that is what this blog post is going to do. The first mass market paperback books in the UK were born between the years 1832 and 1860. There were two distinct markets these publications were aimed at, the ‘juvenile market’ with the story papers, and the working class adult which were known as the ‘penny dreadful’. 

These stories were printed on cheap ‘pulp’ paper, and featured stories largely in the Gothic thriller or Crime genre. In America these ‘penny dreadfuls’ were named ‘Dime novels’ and are thought to have begun with the Beadle and Adam’s ‘Beadle’s Dime’ in 1860. The Beadle series ran for 321 episodes, and was thought to have covered nearly all the conventions of genres. 

The years 1920-1938 saw the fall and the rise of the Paperback. By the beginning of the 20th Century hardback books were more common, and most considered paperbacks to contain trashy or lower quality content. Meanwhile, the Boni Brothers who founded the Modern Library (which eventually became Random House) , realised a book has more success in a mail order than if it is sold in a bookstore. They started sending out the ‘Charles Boni Paper Books’ for $5 a year, and received a book on the 25th of each month. Unfortunately, they were not able to survive the Wall Street crash, and closed publication in 1930. 

Then, on the 10th May 1933 in Germany, the historic burning of the books began. The Nazi’s wanted all the German history, culture, belief and ideology to fit with the Nazi regime. Over 25,000 ‘non-German’ books were burnt that day. 

Next, in 1935, came the publication of the very first Penguin paperback. This was founded by Sir Allen Lane, who rather than choosing to publish ‘low brow’ works, purchased the rights to 10 high class titles. He then ordered 20,000 copies to be printed, a risky move that actually paid off. Woolworth’s bought 63,000 copies, and sold out within 2 days. By March of that year, only 10 months later, Penguin had printed over 1 million books! In 1937 Penguin then bought it’s first imprint, Pelican which was designed to educate the public rather than entertain. By 1940 it had bought its second imprint, Puffin which was to be a supplier of children’s books. Because I’m talking about the history of Penguin, I just want to say I admire the company for being the first to offer paid work experience in 2017, and for abolishing the requirement of having a degree for entry level jobs. As someone who is currently trying to break into the Publishing world it was very refreshing to apply for their jobs by filling out a questionnaire rather than by submitting a CV and cover letter. Just a slight divergence from the topic, but just wanted to add that in. Anyways… 

One of the USA’s largest publishers of encyclopedias published a text only version of the Academic American Encyclopedia in 1985. This was the very first ever book to be published on a CD. Then in 1995 came Amazon. They were the first people to ever sell books online. Founder Jeff Bezos’ idea was to create an online bookstore that was not limited to the volume of books offered by traditional bookshops. The very first book sold online was called ‘Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought’. Sounds like a riveting book doesn’t it. From then on things stayed pretty much the same in the life of a paperback/hardback. It wasn’t until the turn of the century that things changed again. The birth of the e-book. I have mixed feelings about e-books, and I’m still on the fence about whether or not I like them. But that is a subject for another post.

Until next time, 


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