How has designing a pocket military book cover changed the history of publishing?  6 minutes to read

How has designing a pocket military book cover changed the history of publishing? 6 minutes to read


Have you ever wondered why a pocket paperback should always fit the size of a pocket on your clothes? Behind that perfect fit is a story of history!

From 1943 to 1947, the US military sent 123 million copies of more than 1,000 titles to troops serving abroad. These books improved the lives of soldiers, providing them entertainment and comfort during times of war.

The soldiers are reading while recovering at the hospital.

The paperback book developed in America

In America at the beginning of the 20th century, it would be difficult to profit from the sale of such cheap paperback books if it were not for the market model of distribution. Though certain brands publish, like Pocket Books has been successful in partnering with department stores, but private book sellers prefer prettier hardcover books and higher margins. However, the war brought a number of potential customers: the US military.

Historical researcher Molly Guptill Manning wrote in the book When Books Went to War (2014): Although the book was considered an important part of the morale of the soldiers, the Nazis’ use of burning, propaganda and content censorship during wartime resulted in “starvation. book.” In 1940, after it was reported that the new army camps had no reading books, the Director of the Army’s New Library Division, Raymond L. Trautman, has begun to change that.

A soldier was reading Edward Ellsberg’s Hell On Ice while waiting for a haircut.
Thanks to the convenience, the soldiers could read books anywhere, even in the middle of the river.

With limited funds for war, Trautman decided to open a campaign called fundraising Glory books (Victory Book Campaign) all over America. There were a lot of hard and thick books brought, but this certainly could not be a gentle “companion” to a soldier. It was followed by a delay in the donation process that ended the campaign in 1943.

A flyer encourages people to donate books to the army in 1942.
Soldiers in Virginia sit down to compose donated books.

Trautman has found another direction by consulting with publishers, authors and designers to quickly and effectively increase the number of books to the military. 1943, together with graphic artist H. Stanley Thompson and publisher Malcolm JohnsonHe formally proposed his idea: Armed Service Edition (ASE).

A biography of George Gershwin in ASE format for the military.

These will be mass-produced paperback books and regularly sent abroad. Soldiers will read famous works that many people rarely touch – from classics, bestsellers to Western books, comedies and poems – each specially selected by one. Volunteer committee on literary works.

The standards for these books were to be flat, wide, and easy to pocket. Due to different printer sizes, two types came into play: a smaller one, the size and shape of a postcard, that could fit in a bra pocket, and a larger one to fit in a pocket. Both types are oriented horizontally, like a flipbook. The size of this book did not hold the soldiers any longer.

The ASE edition of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn helps Betty Smith gain a huge fan base.

Immediately, the soldiers became loyal readers. Some have admitted that they do not skip any ASE books upon receipt. Not only the soldiers, but also the authors of the books suddenly received unexpected attention. For example writers Betty Smith with the work A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1943) received ten times as much letter from the reader as a soldier after the work was released as ASE.

On the other hand, classics The Great Gatsby (1925) of F. Scott Fitzgerald gained fame after the launch of the ASE version. Before that, this work had a rather modest reputation when it was first released.

The Great Gatsby was revived after being released as ASE.

During a Library of Congress event in 1983, veteran Arnold Gates recalled he stuffed the book Storm Over the Land (1942) of Carl Sandburg, get into your cap before marching to the frontlines. “During the lull in battle, I will read what he wrote about another war and find a lot of peaceful consolation,” he shares.

By 1949, paperback books had become part of the habit of readers. Statistics show that paperback buyers increased by 10% compared to hardcover books. In the postwar era, paperback books truly transformed the publishing industry, from cheap, shabby paperback to a symbol of democracy and practicality across America.

Editor: Navi Nguyen
Source: Atlas Obscura

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