Culture and Commerce at a Postwar Publisher
The tension between commerce and culture has long been recognized as characteristic of the publishing industry. Publishers seek to put forth quality works of cultural significance yet are constrained by the need to earn a profit. This article is a case study of how this conflict played out at a postwar New York City company, Storm Publishers. Storm was a one-person operation run by Alexander Gode-von Aesch, a German immigrant best known for his work as a linguist and translator. Gode founded the company in 1947 to publish The End Is Not Yet, a pacifist novel by the German playwright Fritz von Unruh. Storm went on to publish a diverse array of scholarly and trade books until it was dissolved in 1958. The article analyzes how Gode pursued a number of strategies—relying on personal connections, developing relationships with celebrities, purchasing advertisements, soliciting reviews, cutting costs, generating subsidiary rights income, and sheer tenacity and audacity—in order to compete with larger and more established Manhattan publishers. It argues Gode harbored a contradictory attitude toward the culture–commerce dichotomy, asserting that his aim was to distribute quality works that could not make a profit while at the same time publishing books aimed at bolstering his balance sheet and lamenting others’ lack of sales. As the first history of Storm Publishers, the article sheds light on the midcentury New York publishing industry and how a small firm sought to claim a place in the postwar intellectual economy.
KeywordsStorm Publishers Alexander Gode-von Aesch History of book publishing Postwar book publishing Book publishing in New York City
I thank Susan Gauss for extensive discussions regarding this project and for expert mentorship as the University at Albany History Department’s graduate director. Stephanie Long, Colleen Moriarty, and Ron Reagan, my colleagues in the program, provided feedback on an earlier draft. At the university’s M. E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and University Archives, Brian Keough and Jodi Boyle delivered invaluable research assistance. I am grateful to Robert Snyder for providing insightful comments on this work at the 2015 Researching New York Conference. Finally, I thank my parents, Michele and Seth Chaiken, for their constant support.
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