A Necessary Evil: British Publishers and the Book Production War Economy Agreement
The Ministry of Supply inaugurated an official rationing system for paper in March 1940. The first quota was set at 60% of the publishing industry's pre-war usage and reassessed every three months. As the war progressed, shortages worsened until, at the end of 1941, publishers operated on a 42½% quota. In order to ensure the most efficient use of this limited amount paper by book publishers, Paper Control introduced the Book Production War Economy Agreement, which went into effect on January 1st, 1942. Though participation was voluntary, publishers who signed the Agreement received more paper than those who did not, 37½% as opposed to 25% of their 1938-39 usage. The incentive to adopt the Agreement was therefore extremely persuasive and almost all publishers seem to have done so. Devised by Paper Control in cooperation with the Publishers' Association, the Agreement required a minimum number of words per page, placed limits on the quality of materials used in production and discouraged the use of all unnecessary frills in book design. The standards applied to all publications over 64 pages in length, with certain exceptions allowed for children's books, poetry and technical manuals. The resulting books certainly used less paper, but their appearance left many readers unimpressed. As one critic noted, 'Utility books are a monstrosity.' The Book Production War Economy Agreement represented the first legislation of its kind and its acceptance, reluctant though it may have been, marked a new and singular relaxation of British publishers' fiercely guarded independence.
Keywords: British, History, Book, Design, Publishing, Book Trade, Second World War, World War II, Book Production War Economy Agreement, Ration, Paper
Dr. Amy E. Flanders
NHPRC Fellow, Margaret Sanger Papers Project Department of History, New York University