UK Services Editions


Who were Guild Books?

Posted by Baronbern on May 30, 2010 at 4:50 PM

Almost half of all the Services Editions were issued under the imprint of Guild Books, although this never became a major name in other areas of British publishing. It was the imprint of The British Publishers Guild, described in the blurb on some of its early books as comprising 'a large group of British Publishers who are co-operating in the publication of a comprehensive list of important books of universal appeal, published in paper covers at a very low price.'

The Guild did indeed include a large number of prestigious publishing names including Faber & Faber, Methuen, Harrap, Jonathan Cape, Heinemann, J. M. Dent, John Murray, Cassell, and the Oxford and Cambridge University Presses. In practice it was probably part of the publishing industry’s fightback against the success of Penguin Books.


The runaway success of the early Penguins, launched in 1935, had taken the rest of the industry by surprise and they scrambled to catch up. Some of the larger publishers, such as Collins and Hutchinson quickly launched their own paperback imprints, resembling Penguins although perhaps not quite as highbrow, and there was a rash of similar series from other publishers. By 1940 though, paper rationing was starting to bite and it was not so easy to launch new series or continue old ones. Combining forces may have seemed the best option.


The Guild had issued around 50 paperbacks in the early years of the war in three colour-coded series, according to the price. Guild Six books in red, cost 6d, Guild Nine books were blue and cost 9d and the green Guild Twelves were priced at 1/-. Later Australian issues continued the theme, with a few Guild Fifteen, Guild Eighteen and even Guild Twenty-One issues.




A British Guild Six and an Australian Guild Twenty-One


There was also a series of foreign language translations of books describing British culture and institutions, issued in association with the British Council. These appeared in Czech, Dutch, Greek, French, Norwegian and Polish.



Guild International Editions in Czech, Greek and Dutch


The big success of Guild Books though was the Services Editions. They were able to take advantage of Penguin’s failure with the Forces Book Club and step in with an offer to supply seventy books in runs of 50,000 copies at a price of 5d a book, in return for the necessary allocation of paper. Add in the cost of delivery, taking the cost up to 6d, and the Services Central Book Depot was able to supply units with sets of 70 books for £1 15s. This seems to have been a great success.


The standard Guild Books for the general public mostly dried up at this point, with just a handful of further books issued after the launch of the Services Editions. The series started again after the war and continued sporadically into the mid-fifties, but doesn’t seem to have been a great success. There were also short series of books issued for the European market at the end of the war, one general continental series published in Sweden, and specific series for both Germany and Austria, all in English.


So the Services Editions really were the highpoint of the existence of Guild Books.

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