Paperbacks are hard to beat. Affordable, light and easy to carry, they’re perfect for reading anywhere anytime. AbeBooks offers millions of new and used paperback books for sale from sellers around the world, including bestselling novels, memoirs, and autobiographies plus signed copies, and countless softcover books that are now out-of-print.
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History of paperback books
Paperback books, also called softcovers or softbacks, are designed to make reading affordable. Cheaper than hardcovers, paperbacks are glued together while hardcover books are sewn. Paperbacks also use cheaper paper than their hardcover cousins.
It’s typical for a paperback edition to be released after the hardcover edition, perhaps 12 months later, as a method of generating fresh sales for a particular work. Used paperbacks offer tremendous value for money and are easy to find on AbeBooks thanks to our softcover refinement in search results.
Allen Lane, who founded Penguin, is credited with popularising paperbacks in the 1930s. Paperbacks were produced in the 19th century but Lane was frustrated by the lack of affordable contemporary fiction. He wanted to offer cheap, quality books through outlets like railway stations and newsagents as well as traditional bookshops.
Penguin issued its first 10 books in 1935 and each one cost just six pence at a time when hardcovers were priced at seven or eight shillings. Within a year, Penguin had sold three million paperbacks.
Penguin’s success was not totally based on price but also design. Edward Young was responsible for the first 10 covers, which used simple thick bands of colour to indicate the book’s genre, and made Penguins easy to spot. Vintage copies of these Penguin paperbacks are still easy to spot today in second-hand bookstores. The first Penguin was Ariel: A Shelley Romance by André Maurois – a biography of the poet.
Paperbacks became part of the essential reading experience. There are the battered paperbacks of On the Road carried on road-trips, the 1960s paperback editions of Lord of the Rings that brought J.R.R. Tolkien to the American audience, and Penguin’s history-making paperback edition of Lady Chatterley’s Lover issued after an obscenity court case. Penguin, Puffin, Ace, Bantam, Ballantine, Mills & Boon – the list of famous paperback publishers goes on and on.