Heavy Traffic & High Culture: New American Library as Literary Gatekeeper in the Paperback Revolution

Heavy Traffic & High Culture: New American Library as Literary Gatekeeper in the Paperback Revolution

Heavy Traffic & High Culture: New American Library as Literary Gatekeeper in the Paperback Revolution

Heavy Traffic & High Culture: New American Library as Literary Gatekeeper in the Paperback Revolution

Synopsis

The story of New American Library from 1946 to 1961 and of Victor Weybright, the publisher whose talismanic phrase "luster and lucre" set the cultural and financial formulas that guided this giant paperback house. Bonn employs the "gatekeeper" theory of communication to account for much of NAL's success. Explaining this theory as Weybright applied it, Bonn notes that "the tension on the gate's spring is created by the cultural contribution the work is likely to make tempered by its projected balance sheet." Weybright brought harmony to the conflicting interests of culture versus commerce; his goal was "heavy traffic, high culture," or John Steinbeck, Tennessee Williams, William Faulkner, Truman Capote, and Ernest Hemingway at the dimly remembered quarter per copy.

Excerpt

Paperback book publishing in the United States came of age in the fifteen years following World War II. A handful of companies emerged from the welter of hardcover and softcover reprint operations that existed during this period. They became the leading imprints within mass market book publishing and have to this day directed the course of the popular book industry in America. These companies were the brain children of visionaries, men and women who also brought to their respective imprints solid experience in marketing, production, and editorial practices. At various times and to various degrees each of these companies affiliated with other publishing operations, including hardcover publishers. All experimented with a variety of trade paperback and hardcover arrangements. Each developed highly competitive monthly publication lists of books in various categories or series. New American Library, publisher of Signet and Mentor paperbacks, is one of these companies. Its postwar advancement in strength and in influence within the American publishing industry is representative of the rise of mass market publishing as a whole.

Nal began late in 1945 in all but name when Victor Weybright joined Kurt Enoch at Penguin Books, the New York branch of Britain's most successful softcover publishing company. in January 1948, nal was legally founded by Weybright and Enoch and separated from the British imprint. NAL's initial publications list absorbed and was built on the reprints of the American Penguin branch. in the formative years of contemporary mass market book publishing, nal stood out from the other softcover imprints because of the quality and diversity of both its fiction and nonfiction series. Claiming to have become the largest softcover publisher in the world, the company sponsored in the fifties and early sixties . . .

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