Speaking of paperbacks…did you know that paperback books aren’t a modern invention?
Short books, political pamphlets, and collections of sermons were published starting in the seventeenth century…but two things happened in the 19th century to really launch the concept of inexpensive books: the steam-powered rotary press, and rail travel.
For most of the 18th and earlier 19th centuries, books were a luxury item (we talked about that fact here); you generally purchased the pages of a book and then took them to a binder to be put into a leather cover of your choice (no debates on cover art!) The introduction of steam-powered machinery gradually changed that: the mass printing of thousands of copies of books became a much easier and less expensive process than the old hand-inking and pressing process.
At the same time, railroads were becoming the norm for long-distance travel. The smooth motion of trains meant that one could actually read while traveling (can you imagine trying to read while jolting about in a stage coach or even in one’s personal carriage? Pass the sea-sick pills, please!) The explosion in rail travel therefore brought on an explosion in the number of people wanting to have something to do to while away the hours…and so the market for those inexpensive books that the new presses could make was born. Railway stations became the main distributors of these inexpensive books—it was so simple to pick up a "Yellow-Back" (so called for their brightly colored covers) or a "Dime Novel" or a "Penny Dreadful" or two when going in to purchase tickets. Most of these were tales of action and adventure and romance, though some more educational, how-to, and literary titles were also popular (Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility was released as a yellow-back in 1849)…not all that different from the paperback selections of today!
So here’s the fun part—to celebrate the release of my own penny dreadful, all commenters on this post will be put into a drawing to win a signed paperback of Bewitching Season. Comment away!