I’ve always had a special attachment to paperback books and their design. (Maybe this is because I read paperbacks, while hardcovers often sit on my shelf to accumulate dust and value?) So I was very excited when I got my hands on an old AIGA catalogue for their Paperbacks U.S.A. exhibition. The book includes the book cover designs and credits for 154 winning entries. But as I wanted to take care of the condition, I never sat down to read the text in its entirety. Today I had a change of heart and read the “Comments from the Jury.” I am not well versed in the history of paperbacks in the late 50s/60s, and found the text a little hard to follow…. but it was a worthwhile read. I couldn’t find the text online, so I thought I’d share it for anyone interested. In my short exposure to the publishing world (under 5 years), I have recognized two trends: a decline in overall production values (re: amount of money spent on paper, binding cloth, special effects, etc.), and disconnect between the entire package of the book (i.e. little dialogue or none between cover designer and interiors designer). Of course I know that these points are not true to all publishing houses and niche design studios. But it was very interesting to read a short essay on some of these same points, written almost half a century ago. The book was designed by Philip Grushkin.
Below is an excerpt from AIGA Paperbacks: U.S.A. An Exhibition of Covers (September 1959 /April 1961).
Comments by the Jury
“Nowhere in the world is the art of the book jacket practiced with more expression and variety than in the United States, and in no area of publishing with more forcefulness than in the paperback field. During its comparatively young life of less than a quarter of a century, the soft cover field has sensibly utilized the earlier experiences of jackets of hardbound books, their evolution from a purely protective wrapper to an effective sales force. Submissions to the second “Paperbacks: U.S.A” exhibition demonstrate a continued growth and vitality in the area of cover design. Unfortunately, no comparative progress can be measured in the area of internal design. The indeed unhappy state of the inside of paperbacks is evidenced by the small number selected from the many hundreds submitted. The percentage of poorly, if-at-all designed books, badly printed on mediocre paper, with total disregard for proper margins, reasonable leading, and "not at all rarely" for plain legibility, is astonishingly high. The contrast between the physical properties of package and content, cover and book is alarming. Not more than five percent of all submissions show an aesthetic sympathy between inside and outside. The need for improvement cannot be stated loudly enough. It would seem the acceptance of the ultimate package would more than offset, by a constantly expanding market, the overall cost added to the final price. The price division of the “Call” introduced unrestricted judging for highest standards of design and production consistent with purpose and price. This quite naturally exposes the major portion of what bulges from book racks all over the country to competition with non-mass market design. This type of consideration seems to be the only one which can insure a show of substance with a sound opportunity to contribute to the improvement of graphic standards. If it were the intent to delineate markets in exhibitions of the AIGA, this show could be justifiably criticized. The prime concern, however, is with the broad judgment of graphic communication, of progress and achievement of graphics within a realistic framework regardless of heterogeneous markets. The AIGA “Call” discriminates not against mass market books but rather against the specious premise which would discourage progress in an area of demonstrated and vigorous advance. Indeed, if the graphic cliché be defined as repetitive, automatic solutions, then the higher priced paperbacks are at best equal if not greater offenders. Graphic significance, whether it deals with mass market or limited market, rests with the ability of the cover to communicate. For the mass market publishers to eschew design and design competition with limited market books would be to eliminate or delete the opportunity for prideful accomplishment.”
Daniel F. Bradley, Vice President and Director, Harper & Brothers
George Salter, Free-lance Designer
Walter Brooks, Art Director, The Racine Press
Alvin Eisenman, President, AIGA
Harry N. Abrams, Chairman of the Committee
Walter Brooks, Liaison Director
Joyce Morrow, Executive Directory
(photographs are of an AIGA catalog, for what I believe is the 2nd annual “Paperbacks: U.S.A” competition. The book includes 154 selections of paperback book cover designs (reproduced in black + white, but showcased in color on the cover, back and inside front and back covers). The book includes winning designs from Chermayeff & Geismar Associates, Seymour Chwast, Milton Glaser, Roy Kuhlman, Elaine Lustig, Paul Rand, George Salter, Ben Shahn, and about 100 designers that I never heard of (which I plan to research a little more on). If anyone has any supplemental information on this competition/exhibition, or knows in what year the AIGA decided to do away with a separate paperbacks exhibition....please comment.)