From The Atlantic:
I’m reading a fascinating book called Two-Bit Culture: The Paperbacking of America, published in 1984 by the popular historian Kenneth C. Davis. I picked it up because many of the changes that social media and the Internet are supposed to have wrought on culture are ascribed to the rise of the paperback in this book.There’s all this talk in the book about “the Paperback Revolution” that “enabled American writers to find American readers by the millions” among the “Paperback Generation.” Mass-market paperbacks, we’re told, “made an enormous contribution to our social, cultural, educational, and literary life.”
I haven’t gotten far enough along in the book to tell you how Davis argues the story, but early in the book, I was absolutely dumbfounded by his description of the publishing business in 1931. He draws on a “landmark survey of publishing practices” carried out by one Orin H. Cheney, a banker, as a service to the National Association of Book Publishers.
Among the normal complaints about book publishers selection processes, we find this staggering stat about the retail business of selling books (emphasis added).
“In the entire country, there were only some four thousand places where a book could be purchased, and most of these were gift shops and stationary stores that carried only a few popular novels,” Davis writes. “In reality, there were but five hundred or so legitimate bookstores that warranted regular visits from publishers’ salesmen (and in 1931 they were all men). Of these five hundred, most were refined, old-fashioned ‘carriage trade’ stores catering to an elite clientele in the nation’s twelve largest cities.”
Furthermore, two-thirds of American counties — 66 percent! — had exactly 0 bookstores.
Link to the rest at The Atlantic and thanks to Gordon for the tip.