The Rise of the "Paper-Bounds"

A September 1953 article in Fortune magazine begins, "The old and gently bred book-publishing business has exploded into the U.S.'s newest mass-marketing phenomenon: the pocket-sized paper-bound. In more than a 100,000 newsstands, supermarkets, drug and variety stores the brightly jacketed paper-bounds are making a robustly successful bid for a place in U.S. buying habits."

Interesting as a glance into an important moment in the history of the book publishing industry... but what is its relevance to us, as illustrators and enthusiasts of mid-century illustration? For one thing, its a way of hammering home the point that the advent of the 'paper-bound' presented illustrators with an unprecedented new market for their talents. All those covers needed artwork, and some of the most talented illustrators of the day stepped forward to stake out their territory.

As well, it gives us an opportunity to reflect on the cyclical nature of this industry and how important it is for us to be aware of that dynamic. With the recent arrival of the Kindle and the iPad, do we find ourselves once more standing on the threshold of another revolution in the mass-marketing of the written word?

And if so, how will that revolution impact us? Will we be ready to reap the rewards - as the illustrators of the mid-century were - or will we be further marginalized as many (myself included) feel we have been (especially in the last decade).

The Fortune article describes an "overhauling [of] production, distribution, and merchandising of books" and how "paper-bound publishers have found gold in neglected markets."

"It is a market that has shown both an unsurprising taste for titillation and a startling desire for information and 'culture'."

Doesn't this all sound uncannily familiar?

We've looked at paperback cover art before, but this time we'll delve a little deeper into the history, motivations and market statistics of the last great revolution in the mass-marketing of the printed word. It is my hope that in the process we'll gain a better understanding of where we've been and where we are going as graphic arts professionals.

* Accompanying selected excerpts from the Fortune article will be a broad sampling of mid-century paperback cover scans generously provided by one of my contacts on Flickr, UK Vintage. Many thanks Uilke!

*ALSO* Be sure to visit Female Illustrators of the Mid-20th Century for an important announcement of what sounds like a terrific exhibition coming up at Parson's that will include work by Lorraine Fox, Esta Nesbitt, and Andree Golbin.

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