The Soldiers’ Pocket Books That Legitimized Paperbacks

Nicholas C. Rossis

Even though pamphlets and softcover books have been available in Europe since the 16th century, US readers looked down on them until well into the 20th century. As a recent Atlas Obscura post by Cara Giaimo explains, without a mass-market distribution model in place, it was difficult to make money selling inexpensive books.

Although certain brands succeeded by partnering with department stores, individual booksellers preferred to stock their shops with sturdier, better-looking hardbacks, for which they could charge higher prices. Even those who were trying to change the public’s mind bought into this prejudice: one paperback series, Modern Age Books, disguised its offerings as hardcovers, adding dust jackets and protective cardboard sleeves. They, too, couldn’t hack it in the market, and the company folded in the 1940s.

Wartime Reading

Then, war came. In September of 1940, as the U.S.’s entry into World War II began looking more and more likely…

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