Journal Article

‘Our Ambassadors’: British Books, American Competition and the Great Book Export Drive, 1940–60

Amy Flanders

in The English Historical Review

Volume CXXV, issue 515, pages 875-911
Published in print August 2010 | ISSN: 0013-8266
Published online August 2010 | e-ISSN: 1477-4534 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ehr/ceq163
‘Our Ambassadors’: British Books, American Competition and the Great Book Export Drive, 1940–60

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During the Second World War, the British book trade faced severe shortages of paper, of labour, particularly in the printing and binding sectors, and of shipping space for imports of raw materials and exports of finished books. These limitations drastically reduced the number of books publishers produced—supplies to British booksellers were strictly rationed and exports dwindled to a mere fraction of their pre-war levels. American publications, less affected by war-time shortages, began to supplant British exports in certain key markets. Concern intensified in Britain that this trend would continue, seriously and permanently damaging the book export trade. Overseas book sales were particularly valued, not only because of their very real contribution to the balance of trade, but also because of their immeasurable contributions to the promotion of British culture and ideas around the world: ‘Books are ambassadors of British culture… Books are salesmen of British goods.’1 Prompted by the desire to reclaim markets neglected during the war, drawn by the lure of new markets emerging after, and constantly motivated by the treat of competition from America, the British book trade waged a great campaign to increase book exports. Individual publishers, trade organizations, government ministries and charitable organizations all cooperated in this export drive, introducing an astonishing number of new initiatives and projects between 1940 and 1960. This paper charts traces the motivations behind the book export drive and describes the major initiatives it prompted.

Journal Article.  15713 words. 

Subjects: British History ; World History ; European History ; International History

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