5 things you didn’t know about Paperback
Posted on Jan 18, 2023 at 3:58 PM
Although almost all French people have many Pocket Books in their libraries, many do not know its origins and find it difficult to measure the extent of its current success despite the competition. Here are five facts you probably didn’t know about the format leader…
01. Its founder Henri Filipacchi is a bookish innovator
Le Livre de Poche was launched on February 9, 1953 by Henri Filipacchi, general secretary of the Librairie Hachette, with the support of his publisher friends Albin Michel, Calmann-Lévy, Grasset and Gallimard. The 50-year-old born in Smyrna, from a wealthy family of ship owners from Venice who settled in Turkey, immigrated to France thirty years ago and spent his entire career in printing and publishing. In particular, he played a decisive role in launching the Pléiade and the Série Noire. His exposure to lead oxide in the workshops triggered severe lung disease.
To make the most of the great outdoors, he became an itinerant bookseller, traveling the countryside and beaches at the wheel of a truck turned bookmobile. Because of his dynamism, he was spotted by René Schoeller, the general manager of the Hachette bookstore who hired him in 1934.
02. The French Pocket Book is not the first in the world
Pocket-sized books existed before. Some even date them to the 16th century with the Aldines editions. In the 17th century, the Blue Library was already distributed in France by peddlers when they traveled to villages and fairs. In Germany, the first Tauchnitz collections date back to 1842 and were followed by the Universal-Bibliothek de Reclam and then the Insel Bucherei in 1917.
In Great Britain, Penguin Books, founded in 1936 in London by Allen Lane and VK Krishna Menon, showed that serious books published in paperback and sold for 6 pence could reach a large audience. In the United States, Simon and Schuster designed books before World War II in a format calculated from clothing pocket measurements. During the conflict, these pocket books ended up in the pockets of “GIs”. According to legend, Henri Filipacchi got the idea for his Pocket Book when he saw an American soldier cut a book in half to stuff it into his jacket pockets.
03. The Pocket Book was originally intended for the re-release of successful books
Filipacchi’s innovation rested more on form (format, price, drawings) and his clever use of new printing techniques than on substance. The first titles preserved in the Livre de Poche are indeed certain amounts already allocated and largely amortized: “Koenigsmark” by Pierre Benoît, “Keys to the kingdom” by AJ Cronin, “For whom the bell tolls” by Hemingway , the “Libertine ingenue” by Colette, “Night flight” by Saint-Exupéry. They are printed on average in 60,000 copies.
Pocket Book spontaneously turns out to be very effective in bringing dormant titles up to date. Proust’s “Un amour de Swann” with a foreword by Paul Morand quickly found 500,000 readers. Cardinal de Retz’s “The Memoirs” written in 1717 sold 60,000 copies between 1958 and 1959. It was only a few years later that the collection opened to original works in the fields of science, art or philosophy. Special series were launched along with Classic founded by Roger Nimier in 1958 (practical, detective, youth).
04. Pocket Book remains the undisputed number 1 in this format
The pocket subsidiary of Hachette (60%) and Albin Michel (40%) remains the undisputed number one in this format despite new competitors (the short-lived ten-franc book launched by Thousand and One Nights in 1993, digital books, etc. .) and the offensive of rivals launched after it: J’ai Lu in 1958, Presses Pocket and 10/18 in 1962, Points Seuil in 1970, Folio – born between Hachette and Gallimard – in 1972, etc. According to GfK, Pocket Book still holds 23.3% of the market at the end of December 2022, seven points higher than its first competitor.
In the Top 10 of paperback sales in France in 2022 (Gfk “out-of-box” figures that take into account physical and digital sales), there are six general literature titles published in Livre de Poche, including the two Guillaume Musso: his first novel first published in 2001 “Skidamarink” and “The unknown of the Seine”. France’s best-selling author for the twelfth year in a row moved from Pocket to Livre de Poche in 2019 on the sidelines of his move to large format at Calmann-Lévy. Contemporary writers complete the list: Melissa da Costa with two titles (“I came back from others”, “All the blue of the sky”), Valérie Perrin and Virginie Grimaldi, whose “It’s high time to rekindle the stars ” was recently elected. “favourite French book”.
05. Historical bestsellers are titles that are now somewhat forgotten
“Le Grand Meaulnes”, the mystery novel by Alain-Fournier, is the only novel to sell more than 5 million copies since 1953 with “Vipère au poing” by Hervé Bazin. Two classics exceed 4 million: “Le journal d’Anne Frank” and “Germinal” by Emile Zola.
The club with more than 3 million makes room for more diversity among its seven elected members, which range from “Silence de la mer” by Vercors to “La cuisine pour tous” by Ginette Mathiot and ” Le Parfum” by Patrick Süskind. Agatha Christie’s “They are ten” (formerly titled “The Ten Little Negroes”) can easily be found there. Published since 1962 in Livre de Poche, the prolific writer of thrillers has accumulated 15 million copies thanks to his 95 titles, ahead of Zola – 6 million with 21 novels.