History of Publishing Ep 9: World War II and Post-War Publishing
In a period that destroyed so much, the publishing industry in Britain and Europe endured. Even as the war destroyed buildings and vast quantities of books, book production continued to supply the country, particularly the armed forces, with reading materials. The nature of war left soldiers with periods of inaction that had to be filled with entertainment in order to keep up morale. Free countries saw a sharp rise in book sales because of this. Countries under Nazi occupation had their book industry flattened and censored. The British creators had to contend with rationed supplies and the subpar appearance of their books as a consequence that had to compete with the superior products produced in the USA, whose book industry went relatively unimpeded during the Second World War in comparison to European publishers.
Due to paper shortages and material restrictions, books were produced in very small numbers and sold out very quickly. This meant that despite war taxes, publishers were doing better financially than ever before. New authors were guaranteed to sell-out and so, publishers were willing to take more risks with the manuscripts they took on. Britain was book-poor and when the publishing industry emerged into the post-war market, they found a new reading public that was hungry for literature. The post-war period introduced a lot of social changes in many countries, particularly in the educational opportunities for the wider population. New universities and colleges established and introduced new sciences and technologies that fed into the thriving book market. With educational resources falling to the wayside during the war, there was a public hunger for educational books and learning.
The most recognisable technological advancement in printing was made in the post-war period. Photocomposition and offset printing automated much of the production process for printers, improving the production rate while reducing costs, which meant larger print volumes were easily met. The paperback became king by the 1950s. The pre-war Penguin paperback series had secured how successful the paperback could be and the book form began to escalate into good quality and affordable books, suitable for every possible genre or subject.