RARA-AVIS: Paperback Originals/Gold Medal (Long post)

From: abc@wt.net
Date: 03 Aug 2002

Bill asked about the history of GM. OK, but be careful what you ask for. You may get it. This article is from Paperback Quarterly, Volume 1, Number 1, way back in 1978. It had footnotes, believe it or not, but they didn't scan well, so I omitted them. I blame any and all other errors on the scanner, as well.

Bill Crider

The paperback original as we know it was born in 1950. Even at that time, of course, there was nothing new in the idea of original fiction in paper covers, as those familiar with Beadle's nickel, dime, and fifteen cent novels know. Beadle's books first appeared nearly one hundred years before 1950. And even in the 1940s novels appeared in paper covers without first having gone through higher-priced, cloth-bound editions. Many of these, however, were published by small houses, were digest size (HandiBooks, for example), and did not really resemble the reprints being issued by Pocket Books, Bantam, Avon, and others. The new history of paperback original publishing began quietly in late 1949 with a brief article in the December 3 issue of Publisher's Weekly.stating that "Beginning in February [1950], original fiction including westerns and mysteries will be published at 25 cents in a pocket-size format by Fawcett Publications." The series, to be called Gold Medal Books, had actually already begun with two
"experimental titles," both anthologies of material culled from two Fawcett magazines. The titles were The BEST of TRUE MAGAZINE and The Best of TODAY'S WOMAN. This announcement does not seem to have caused any undue excitement, and there was no further news of Fawcett?s venture in Publisher's Weekly until May 13, 1950, when another brief article appeared. This article said that Fawcett books were "similar in appearance and cover allure to many of the paperback reprints, but the story material [was] original and not reprinted from regular editions." (The key word here is "regular." "Regular" editions were cloth-bound. Pocket-size books were re-prints of "regular" editions. Therefore paper originals could never be "regular.") The authors of these fiction originals were to be paid a $2000 advance against a guaranteed first printing of 200,000 copies. The May 1950 Fawcett releases, actually the first four Gold Medal novels, were Stretch Dawson by W. R. Bumett (author of Little Caesar), Nude in Mink by Sax Rohmer (creator of Fu Manchu), I'll Find You by Richard Himmel, and The Persian Cat by John Flagg. Burnett' s hook was a western; the latter three books were mystery/adventure novels. Such a publishing method seems natural, almost inevitable, to us now, when original paperback novels make up some of the greatest successes of the publishing year (such as Pyramid's best-selling and widely imitated Bicentennial series by John Jakes, or Avon's Wicked Loving Lies, a romance which sold close to 300,000 copies in its first month of publication). In 1950, however, paper-covered books existed primarily to reprint the higher-priced hardcover editions, and it was not long before what Publisher's Weekly called a "spirited debate" broke out between Fawcett and the other publishing houses, most notably Pocket Books, a pioneer reprint firm. Freeman Lewis, executive vice-president of Pocket Books, said that
?_Successful_ authors are not interested in original publishing at 25 cents.'" Mr. Lewis went on to say that while many works were no doubt available for original publishing, these were "mostly rejects, or sub-standard books by usually competent writers." There was also a financial side to the debate. From the 25-cent originals, the author got the entire royalty. If his book was first -published in a "regular" edition, the author had to split the reprint royalty 50-50 with the hardcover publisher. Of course, as these publishers were quick to point out, the paperback writer was left without the normal royalties paid on the hardcover edition and whatever book club rights he might have received. There was also a strong implication by the hardback publishers that paperback writers would be unlikely ever to make a movie sale. Fawcett responded that its original novels were equal in quality to other 25-cent books (i.e., reprints) and mentioned that among its authors were many who had first published with some success in hard covers, including Rohmer, Burnett, MacKinlay Kantor, and Octavus Boy Cohen. As for finances, Fawcett felt that the author's reward came much more promptly from original paperback publishing than from the hardcover firms. In addition, at least one original had. already "been sold to the movies," thus increasing the author's benefits. (That exemplary title was The Violent Ones-by Howard Hunt, a best-selling writer of the late 1940s and 1950s, who wrote paperbacks under his own name and several pseudonyms--Gordon Davis, Robert Dietrich, David St. John-?and later achieved fame in other areas.) All in all, Fawcett concluded that there were plenty of action, adventure, and western manuscripts to go around and that its original-publishing operation was "no threat" to the reprint or hardcover firms. This was clearly not the view of LeBaron R. Barker of Doubleday, who felt that original paperback could
"'undermine the whole structure of publishing'" The
"spirited debate" grew even more acrimonious. Donald MacCampbell, a literary agent, wrote in a letter to Publisher's Weekly that one publisher "threatened to boycott my agency if it continued to negotiate contracts with original 25-cent firms.? What was all the shouting about? For one thing, Gold Medal titles were selling quite a few copies. As Ralph Daigh, Editorial Director of Gold Medal, put it, "In the past six months we have produced 9,020,645 books and people seem to like them very well.? Gold Medal was a success, and its output increased from thirty-five titles in 1950 to sixty-six in 1951. It was obvious that the other publishers saw that Gold Medal was both cutting into their market and creating its own market. They seemed both envious and resentful, and most soon realized that they would have to meet the competition. Publisher's Weekly reported in May 1952 that Avon had included three originals in its April 1952 releases and was "looking for more manuscripts." Dell was "'thinking about' some systematic program of original publishing." Lion Books had "a definite original publishing program in the works." Graphic had begun "publishing originals on a systematic basis almost a year ago." Bantam, Pocket, and NAL stood firm, saying that they would ?not be competing in this field. (It is interesting that Arnold Hano of Lion Books saw fit to respond to this article with a letter stating that "The original publishing program of Lion Books is a supplement, and merely a supplement, to our reprint program.") One clever attempt to circumvent the original/reprint controversy was made in 1952 by lan Ballantine, founder of Ballantine Books. His idea was "to offer trade publishers a plan for simultaneous publishing of original titles in two editions, a hard-cover ?regular? edition for bookstore sale, and a paper-cover, ?newsstand? size, low-priced edition for mass market sale.? One of Ballantine's first, and very successful, titles was Cameron Hawley's Executive Suite. Another unique development in 1952 was the A. A. Wyn company's series, Ace Double Hovel Books. Each Ace Double Novel included two books, one reprint and one original work, and had two "front" covers and two title pages, a bibliographer's nightmare come true. These books sold for 35 cents. The first Ace Double featured The Grinning Gizmo by Samuel W. Taylor (reprint) and Top Hot For Hell by Keith Vining (original). In 1953, Dell finally announced its plans for Dell First Editions. Dell had for some time been planning the expansion of its paperback program, and had previously announced that "originals [would] play a large part in the expansion.? Early titles in the series included Walt Grove'?s Down, Frederic Brown's Madball, and Charles Einstein's The Bloody Spur, later filmed and reprinted as While The City Sleeps. Dell's program, like Fawcett's, was very successful; the practice of publishing paperback originals was well established. Some notably successful paperback writers include John D. MacDonald, John Jakes, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., and Kathleen E. Woodiwiss. MacDonald began writing for Gold Medal in the arly 1950s and also did originals for Dell First Editions arid Popular Library. He has seen his popular Travis McGee series of paperback originals reprinted in hardcover and has lately achieved bestseller status in "regular" editions, most recently with Condominium. Kurt Vonnegut's second novel, The Sirens of Titan, was a Dell First Edition, and he also published Mother Night with Gold Medal. A book club has recently reprinted all five volumes of John Jakes' Bicentennial series in hardcover editions, available to members of the club either in separate volumes or as a set. Kathleen E. Woodiwiss has been so successful that Avon issued. her latest book, Shanna, in a trade edition for
$3.95. No doubt a standard size paperback, somewhat cheaper, will be issued later. This latter development seems to have brought originals almost full circle: the pocket-size edition of Shanna will be a reprint of a higher-priced original.

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