Book Publishing in America – always at the brink of extinction – always under threat. In 1960 the threat came in the form of paperback books – cheaper to sell and cheaper to produce. Extinct in 1960 was what was commonly known as Pulp Fiction – mostly Westerns, murder mysteries anything that went under the heading of cheap and exploitive, written either by unknowns or pseudonyms.
What was now flooding the market were independently produced books, books by serious authors who were outside the mainstream. Publishers who catered to the niche market, taking the cheapness of the paperback book and injecting it with quality that fairly rivaled it’s hardbound counterpart. Publishers like City Lights, an offshoot of the popular San Francisco bookstore, catering to poetry and work of Beat Generation authors. City Lights became a mecca for poets and authors who didn’t fit in the Random House mold – whose authors were considered unorthodox and borderline obscene, but whose market was on the verge of exploding.
In addition, the paperback was now filling a need that was never quite fulfilled by its hardbound counterpart; the How-to book. Most popular at the time were Dr. Benjamin Spock‘s books on baby and child care – and as the 60s progressed, books with unlikely sounding titles such as The Whole Earth Catalog and I’m Okay – You’re Okay were becoming part of every home library across America.
This discussion, part of the Open Mind radio program takes on the subject of what American Book publishing was up to in 1960; how it was changing and how it was remaining the same. But how the Publishing industry as a whole was in the process of change, even in 1960. No doubt, looking at it from the perspective of 2017 it bears little or no resemblance to the industry of almost 60 years ago. Book Publishers themselves have gone out of business, or have been taken over by conglomerates. The nature of books themselves has changed. Like everything of an artistic endeavor, it is dictated by the bottom line, by the profit margin and the stockholder. Subsequently, the mainstream has become painfully narrow, the diversity and willingness to cultivate new and unknown authors has gone largely by the wayside. What’s left now is what became attractive about Paperback Book Publishing in the 1950s and early 60s – only now technology has replaced (or at least become yet another alternative to) the Paperback book with the e-Book. Authors are finding self-publishing doesn’t carry the aura of cheap and amateurish it once did. And like the current state of affairs with the Music Business, the artists are exercising control over their own works, cutting out the middle-man.
So in a sense, the issues which were visiting the Book publishing business in the 1950s and 60s have come full circle in the 2000s. Perhaps that’s not a bad thing. However, we do run the risk of everyone becoming an author – as everyone seems to have at least “one book in them”. It could be fun.
Here is what was being discussed in 1960 via The Open Mind .