Let’s return for a moment to paperback originals, that is, paperback books that are not reprints of earlier works. As I’ve pointed out before, the literary world takes almost no account of these books -- no reviews, few mentions in bibliographies, systematic collection by only a handful academic libraries. If the books receive any acknowledgment at all, it’s usually for their salacious covers. And these are pretty much the same for originals and reprints.
A few years ago I looked at the output of paperback originals in 1955 and came up with some data about their number, publishers and genre. Last week, having nothing better to do, I decided to try to figure out how many paperback originals were actually published. It’s worth saying that this task was only possible because Graham Holroyd’s Paperback Prices and Checklist has a special designation for paperback originals. To bring the tabulation into line with the whole California reading project, I limited the count to the period from the 1930s to the end of 1960. I also excluded certain categories: non-fiction, anthologies, books of cartoons, books printed overseas, and later editions of books that began as originals.
With all those restrictions in place, the count (fairly accurate, I believe) came to 3,350. Nearly all of that total was from the period after 1950. Something like 90 publishers printed at least one paperback original. Fawcett topped the list with about 700 titles. Ace was runner-up with around 450. Other publishers in triple digits were Popular, Avon, Dell, Beacon, Pyramid, News Stand, Ballantine and Lion.
You have to wonder about the impact of paperback originals. They weren’t “best sellers,” of course. That honor was reserved for books with hard covers. But they did sell. I couldn’t find specific numbers for print runs, but I did learn that Fawcett printed at least 200,000 copies of each title. Presumably other large publishers had similar runs. Popular titles went into second and even third printings. Some paperback originals sold more than a million copies. A few paperback authors (e.g., Richard Prather) racked up tens of millions in sales. Some probably dubious math led me to conclude that the total number of copies of all paperback originals through 1960 exceeded a half-billion. Which seems like too many books to ignore.