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Two modern paperback books
Perfect binding

A paperback  - in today's parlance - is a small-format, handy book with a flexible cover without a dust jacket in perfect binding ( brochure ), which often appears in large editions at a relatively low price. Other features are the small font with the narrow type area and the often woody, rough paper, which along with the high print run a favorable selling price allow. The preferred printing method is offset printing . Paperback books often appear in thematically open series . In recent years - as part of the competition among publishers in German-speaking countries - the font and type area have been improved and the quality of the paper increased. More and more original editions appear immediately in paperback.

In German - but not in English - a paperback is a large-format paperback or a paperback with an envelope whose paper thickness is between that of hardcover and paperback.

Paper-bound books (initially often dime novels or everyday classics) were published in Germany and elsewhere as early as the 19th century. The Hamburg-based Albatross Verlag is considered to be the author of the paperback in its modern style, and it was the first to produce new literature in an appealing design for the mass market . While up to the second third of the 20th century mainly secondary or final exploitation of book titles that had previously been published elsewhere predominated, the number of first publications in paperback has increased sharply in the meantime.

In historical parlance, any handwriting or printed matter in a handy format can also be referred to as paperbacks .


Small-format books have existed since ancient times. From the time of the persecution of Christians, small-format papyrus writings have come down to us which, due to their size, could be easily transported and hidden. The so-called Cologne Mani Codex from the 5th century is considered the smallest . It is only 3.5 × 4.5 cm in size. In the Middle Ages , small-format pouch books were known . B. contained the catechism or business and legal regulations.

Almanacs of the 18th and 19th centuries

Title page of the Muses Almanac published by Friedrich Schiller for the year 1796

To the emerging educated middle class , and especially to women, the targeted almanacs of the 18th century, including the so-called Muse almanacs . In general, the term paperback at this time referred to a special form of the almanac in which different types of text (both novellas , poetry and the like as well as non-fictional texts ) were gathered. It was mostly aimed at a broad readership, but in some cases also aimed at specific target groups. This is how, for example, “pocket books for women” were created. Well-known paperback authors were Goethe , Schiller and Wieland .

Even in the 19th century, books in small format (i.e. almanacs) that were published annually were primarily referred to as paperbacks ; They used to contain a calendar, genealogical news and all sorts of useful messages, but gradually took on more and more fictional content (especially narrative literature ). As a characteristic feature, they almost always contained an addition of copperplate engravings (first applied by Daniel Chodowiecki ). The Viewegsche “Taschenbuch” (Berlin 1798–1803), in which Goethe's Hermann and Dorothea appeared in 1798, should be mentioned by name ; the "Pocket Book of Love and Friendship" by Wilmans (Frankfurt 1801–1841); the “Urania” (Leipzig 1810–1838, new series 1839–1848) and the “women's pocket book” (Nuremberg 1815–1831).

Later one also began to publish annual paperbacks for the individual sciences ; This is where Friedrich von Raumer's “Historisches Taschenbuch” (founded in 1830, edited by Wilhelm Maurenbrecher since 1881 ) and Prutz's “Litterarhistorisches Taschenbuch” (1843–1848) belong . There were also paperbacks for botanists , hunters , for the theater, etc. This literary genre is known today as yearbooks .

The emergence of the modern paperback

First edition of Faust as No. 1 of "Reclam's Universal Library" (1867)

In the middle of the 19th century, book series came onto the market that could be offered cheaply thanks to more modern production processes. They were mostly driven out as a whole series. Since 1841 the Leipzig publisher Christian Bernhard Tauchnitz (in his Bernhard Tauchnitz Verlag) has published various series of paperbacks for an English-speaking audience: initially the "Collection of British and American Authors" and from 1868 also a "Collection of German Authors", which in 1886 included the " Students' Tauchnitz Editions ”followed. In England, the newly founded Routledge publishing house imitated the model of the Tauchnitz publishing house since 1848 with its "Railway Library". The series “ Reclam's Universal Library ” (since 1867) also comes from the early days of the modern paperback.

At the end of the 19th century, inspired by French publishers, book series appeared in Germany with more elaborate cover illustrations that were thread-sewn but did not have a permanent cover, such as the short-lived Fischer Collection from S. Fischer Verlag . At the beginning of the 20th century, Ullstein Verlag brought out inexpensive paperbacks based on the British model (“Red Ullstein Books” at a price of one mark each).

In 1930 Christian Wegner , who was mainly responsible for the " Insel-Bücherei " at Insel Verlag , changed for a short time as managing director to Bernhard Tauchnitz Verlag, after a surprisingly quick separation from this publisher, he and John Holroyd-Reece founded The Albatross Verlag Hamburg GmbH ”and have it entered in the Leipzig commercial register in November. Primarily Wegner was director of Albatross Verlag from Paris from 1932 ; the extradition was done by Kurt Enoch in Hamburg . At Oscar Brandstetter in Leipzig, these first modern paperbacks for the general mass market were printed in the original language for worldwide delivery. The concept envisaged an inexpensive book whose content quality should not suffer and which was immediately recognizable for the respective series with colored printed covers made of paper or thin cardboard, i.e. as a brochure .

Prominent authors such as Aldous Huxley , James Joyce , David Herbert Lawrence , Sinclair Lewis , Thornton Wilder and Virginia Woolf could be won for the “Albatross Modern Continental Library”, who were able to win large numbers of copies in the edition suitable for the masses. In 1935 Allen Lane created the series of British Penguin Books , which simply took over the idea of ​​the modern paperback from Albatross: the paperback was finally born and attractive to other publishers. In the USA, the publishing house Simon & Schuster published the first paperbacks in 1939 under the series title "Pocket Books". The first German-language paperbacks of the newer type were also published by Goldmann and Scherz at the end of the 1930s . During the Second World War , Gottfried Bermann Fischer tried to influence the education of German prisoners of war in the USA with the series “New World”.

After the Second World War, Rowohlt Verlag received a license from the occupying powers to print books, but good paper was scarce. The publisher found a first solution by printing in large editions from 1946 to 1949 using a rotation process on cheap newsprint and in a rather unwieldy newspaper format; thus "Rowohlt's rotary novels" ( RO-RO-RO ) were born. The first four titles were printed in 100,000 copies each and sold for 50 pfennigs; they were an instant hit. These first titles, which also reflect the effort to bring “another” cultural asset to the Germans after the Nazi era , were In Another Land by Ernest Hemingway , Gripsholm Castle by Kurt Tucholsky , Typhoon by Joseph Conrad and Der große Kamerad ( The great Meaulnes ) by Alain-Fournier .

From 1950 Rowohlt, inspired by the production method in the USA, produced the first actual paperback books in the Federal Republic ( rororo ), which now also had the small dimensions established there (11 to 18 cm). Little Man appeared as volume 1 - what now? by Hans Fallada . A special feature of the first rororo pocket books was the advertising in the middle of the books, which was supposed to lower the selling price. In addition, an adhesive binding process named after Emil Lumbeck made production even cheaper. With the so-called Lumbecken , the printed sheet is no longer individually stapled and then glued to the cover; rather, the sheets are brought together without stapling, the spine of the book block is roughly sanded and then as a whole it is glued into the cover. Until 1961, when volume 451 was reached, the Rowohlt-Verlag paperbacks were covered with a linen band on the back. The collection of the so-called linen spines later became a separate collecting area. The book covers by the artist couple Karl Gröning Jr. contributed significantly to the success of the series . and Gisela Pferdmenges , who adorned around 350 rororo ribbons until around 1959 . Edgar Friederichsen , the production manager, had brought the two together with Rowohlt.

Following this success of the Rowohlt publishing house, other publishing houses began to bring out their own paperback series. Well-known paperback series are published today by Heyne Verlag , Bastei-Lübbe , S. Fischer , Goldmann , Suhrkamp and Deutsches Taschenbuch Verlag (dtv) ; outside Germany Penguin Books in the UK or the Collection folio of Gallimard in France known examples.

See also


  • Elsa Dixler: "Paperback Row" , in: The New York Times of March 16, 2008 (article that explains , among other things, the differences between the paperback distribution forms mass-market paperback and trade paperback ).
  • Daniela Völker: The book for the masses. Paperbacks and their publishers . Tectum, Marburg 2014. ISBN 978-3-8288-3353-1 .
  • Lise Jaillant: Cheap Modernism. Expanding Markets, Publishers' Series and the Avant-Garde . Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh 2017.
  • Carlos Spoerhase : Smoking or Reading? To research the history of the paperback. In: Archiv für Geschichte des Buchwesens 72 (2017), pp. 239–243.

Individual evidence

  1. Entry "Pocket Book". In: Helmut Hiller: Dictionary of the book . Third edition, 1967, p. 284; Sigrid Gent: The paperback primer . 1992, p. 9.
  2. [1] , p. 99
  3. [2]
  4. ^ A b Entry “Albatross Modern Continental Library” on the Publishing History website , accessed on August 25, 2017; Lise Jaillant: Cheap Modernism. Expanding Markets, Publishers' Series and the Avant-Garde . Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh 2017.
  5. ^ Entry "Routledge's Railway Library" on the British Library website , accessed August 25, 2017.
  6. Jochen Zenthöfer: “Book for the masses. The paperback and its publishers ”. In: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of November 3, 2014, p. 16.