1941: Book Publishing

During past years the American book trade has been mainly agitated by various internal preoccupations — matters of fair trade, questions of discounts, and so on. In 1941 there were comparatively few questions of this sort before the trade. Rather, the main preoccupation was the effects of the war on business. Naturally, since the United States entered the war only in December 1941 there were few consequences discernible from our actual participation in World War II; but the war had a definite bearing, nevertheless.

In the first place, under the National Defense Program, there were threats of shortages in various branches of book manufacturing. The former OPM made it clear that paper was likely to be short. And chlorine, which is used as a whitening agent in the manufacture of paper, was definitely rationed. Further curtailments of chlorine for bleaching paper will be reflected in the appearance of our books. Other shortages were predicted in book cloths, glue, binders' board and other materials used in the making of books. Publishers and printers are already making plans to change the format of books to some extent, if shortages should develop further.

The effects of these threatened shortages were not immediately noticeable, for the totals indicating the production of titles in the United States declined relatively little in 1941 over the totals for 1940. During the year, 11,112 different books were published in the United States, as compared to 11,328 for the year 1940, a difference of 216 or a decline of less than 2 per cent. And it is particularly interesting that the figure for 1940 was the highest recorded for more than 25 years.

There were 263 publishers who issued more than 5 titles during the calendar year. They brought out, in all, 7,986 titles. (These figures refer, of course, to regular 'trade' titles, not to textbooks, subscription books, or other types of publications; if they did, the number would be much higher.) The 263 publishers issuing 5 or more books produced almost 72 per cent of the total number of titles produced in America during 1941. Among them, 17 firms issued 100 or more titles each. The 25 top publishers, including the 17 first mentioned, put out 3,632 titles, or 31 per cent of all the trade books published. The leading publisher, from the standpoint of number of titles issued, was the Macmillan Company, with 434 titles. The reprint house of Grosset & Dunlap was next, with 305 titles. Harper & Brothers came third, with 275 titles.

What kind of books sold best during 1941? Looking down the list of best sellers, 10 of fiction and 10 of non-fiction, compiled by the Publishers' Weekly, the American book trade journal, the effect of the war on American reading tastes becomes evident. Interest in the war was reflected in the 20 top books of fiction and non-fiction. Among the non-fiction, seven titles were directly or indirectly connected with the war or with conditions that led up to it. These were: Berlin Dairy, by William L. Shirer; The White Cliffs, by Alice Duer Miller; Out of the Night, by 'Jan Valtin'; Inside Latin America, by John Gunther; Blood, Sweat and Tears, by the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill; You Can't Do Business with Hitler, by Douglas Miller; and My Sister and I, by a 12-year-old Dutch boy who signed himself 'Dirk van der Heide,' an obvious pseudonym. Two novels among the best sellers, This Above All, by Eric Knight, and For Whom the Bell Tolls, by Ernest Hemingway (also a best seller in 1940), were also connected with the war, though the Hemingway book dealt with the curtain-raiser, the Spanish Civil War. Random Harvest, by James Hilton, is on a subject drawn from World War I. Other best sellers fell mainly into the escape or purely literary classes, including the leading fiction seller, The Keys of the Kingdom, by A. J. Cronin.

Sales of the leading books were high for 1941. Berlin Diary had sold, by the end of the year, 586,532 copies, one of the few books of recent years to reach the half million bracket. The Keys of the Kingdom, in first place among fiction, almost reached the same figure, with sales of over 470,000 copies.

The sale of books through the retail bookstores and book departments fluctuated, in a general way, with the news of war. Large outlets, like the R. H. Macy book department, reported that every new thrust by the Axis powers brought an immediate decline in business, a decrease that, in most cases, was gradually wiped out. The retail booksellers ended up the year with an increase in business of about 16 per cent over business done in 1940. Interestingly enough, shops in New York fared less well than those in other parts of the country. The reports from the largest chain of bookstores are significant in this respect. This chain operates stores in New York and in many other cities. The New York branches showed an increase in business of 11 per cent, while the yearly figure for the stores in other cities reached about 22 per cent.

December was, as usual, the best month for retail sales of books. It was followed by November, July, August, and October, in that order.

Significant of the times was a definite trend toward a greatly increased demand for books on technical subjects, particularly those in any way related to defense industries and military matters. Together with war books and works dealing with recent history and international affairs, these led a move to greater interest in non-fiction, reversing a trend of several years' standing. Children's books, oddly enough, continued to have a big place in retail sales. Another interesting trend was a general decline in circulating libraries, attributed by many booksellers to the fact that rental library customers are, in many cases, too busy with various kinds of defense work to spend as much time reading as formerly. See also LITERATURE, AMERICAN.

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