Dell, An American Publisher of Days Past
A Distant Memory of Dell Romances
Dell used to be a huge publisher of fiction and in particular romance. They hopped on the romance market when many other publishers ignored the genre.
I have mentioned many times before at Sweet Savage Flame how Elaine Coffman’s Escape Not, My Love was the first historical romance I read. Dell published the book in 1990, featuring a stunning stepback cover.
Dell had a long and successful history with romance. At one point, they were in direct competition with Harlequin. This was during what was called the “romance wars.” Ultimately, only one publisher was left standing. However, Dell’s decline would come long after the “romance wars” ended.
Dell and Their Beginnings
Dell Publishing was one of the earliest mainstream paperback publishers in the United States.
George Delacorte founded Dell Publishing in 1921 with money he received in a severance package after being dismissed from his job at a New York publishing firm. Delacorte looked down on the hoi polloi, but at the same time to wanted to capitalize on the “semi-literate” classes. He saw there was an untapped market there, by producing cheaply made books of questionable quality that were designed to entertain, not enlighten.
This insight made him a very rich man. Later in life Delacorte become a major philanthropist–the Delacorte Theater in Central Park is named for him–famous for financing monuments, statues and beautification projects. Lamentably, Delacorte was not a man of the people, deeming the poor as “dumb and lazy.” Nor did he give to hospitals, which he despised.
Dell Early Books
Dell a major publisher of pulp magazines and comic books, started publishing paperback books in 1943. Dell had a long, successful track record in newsstand sales. By 1946 it was a major player in the paperback book industry, second only to Pocket Books in sales. It did not have its first million-seller until the 1950s.
Dell partnered with Western Publishing headquartered in Racine, Wisconsin for many of its publications, including the Dell paperbacks and comic books. Western had editorial offices in New York and Los Angeles. The latter handled the comics and books published under license with Disney and other studios. Western’s Los Angeles office had published an earlier series of paperback mysteries under the Bantam imprint (unrelated to the firm founded in 1945) which were sold in vending machines. Western handled editorial and art for Dell paperbacks while Dell’s New York office was in charge of financing. distribution and promotion.
Delacorte’s longtime assistant, Brooklyn-born Helen Meyer, noted for her toughness, was in charge of Bantam Books, a breakthrough in publishing for women. She later became CEO and President of Dell Publishing, the first woman to head a major publishing company.
Dell published comic books featuring comic-strip, Disney, and Looney Tunes characters. Puzzle magazines were among the company’s greatest successes. They also used the book imprints of Dial Press, Delacorte Books, Delacorte Press, Yearling Books, and Laurel Leaf Library.
Dell covers resembled the covers of pulp magazines. The back covers of some books had maps and casts of characters rather than the blurbs that were standard in publishing.
Dell and Romance
Early Romance Books and Magazines
Besides magazines like Modern Screen and Modern Romance,
Nurse & Gothic Romances
In the late 1960’s Dell jumped onto the hot “nurse” romance bandwagon.
Not to be overlooked were Gothics.
Dell And Category Romance
In the late 1960s, they created a line dedicated to romance.
These books were published from 1967 to 1982. Dell Candlelight Romances initially began as medical romances, then later included Gothic, historical, and contemporary.
This line should be noted for publishing Entwined Destinies by Rosalind Welles in 1980. It was the first category romance written by an African American author to feature Black protagonists.
Candlelight Ecstasy Romance
Legendary African-American editor Vivian Stephens founded the Candlelight Ecstasy Romance in 1980. These books ran about the same length as Harlequin Romances or Presents, about 188-190 pages. They were a more sensual and erotically charged series than the standard Candlelight Romances. This line ran for about seven years.
Candlelight Ecstasy Supreme
In 1983 Dell expanded their stable of romances further by launching the Candlelight Ecstasy Supreme category romances. These books were longer than the Candlelight Ecstasy Romances by 100 pages, allowing for more in-depth plotlines and deeper emotional content. Authors such as Heather Graham, Lori Copeland, Anne Stuart, and Cathie Linz wrote for the Ecstasy Supreme series.
The line was successful but only lasted until 1987. This was partly because Bantam’s parent company purchased Dell in 1986. Bantam already had a thriving category line in its Loveswept series. Thus, they ceased production of both Candlelight lines.
Dell would continue to produce romance novels, but only as single-edition, full-length works.
Other Dell Media
Dell was acquired by publishing giant Doubleday in 1976. Under Doubleday, Dell flourished by publishing paperback romances and other fiction. From 1986 to 1988, there would be a series of consolidations that would affect Dell’s future. Portions of Doubleday merged with Bantam & Dell to become the Bantam-Doubleday-Dell Publishing Group.
Danielle Steele and Elizabeth Adler would write many blockbusters with this group. Many bestselling romances would be published during this period. Authors such as Virginia Henley, Karen Robards, Rexanne Becnel, Diana Gabaldon, Karen Marie Moning, Kat Martin, Marsha Canham, and Brenda Joyce were just a few of the very prolific and talented authors who wrote for Dell.
Then an even larger merger occurred in the late 1990s which would truly shake things up for Dell.
Dell Puzzle Magazines had commenced production in 1931. The first issue of Dell Pocket Crossword Puzzles was launched in 1941.
In the past, I used to be a prodigious crossword player. I also loved logic, math & word puzzles, although not word search games or Sudoku. Occasionally when I see a Dell magazine on the store racks I buy them, but am shocked at how high the prices are!
In 1973, William and Penny Kanter had purchased a struggling crossword-magazine business which they would relaunch as the popular Penny Press magazines. They would be Dell’s competitor in the puzzle magazine business for the next twenty years.
The End of Dell
The end of Dell as an independent publisher came after a long string of mergers and sales. Dell’s parent company, Doubleday, was acquired by Bertelsmann, a private German conglomerate in 1986. Bertelsmann already owned Bantam books, 100% of the company since 1980. As mentioned earlier, they merged Bantam, Doubleday & Dell into one massive US subsidiary, with individual imprints.
Over a decade later, Bertelsmann completed its acquisition of mega-publisher Random House. Random House was an old player in the paperback industry, dating back to 1923.
The Bantam-Doubleday-Dell super company under Bertelsmann ran parallel to Random House for a few years. Ten years afterward in 2008, there was another in-house reshuffling and house-cleaning due to the changes in the publishing industry. Random House would take control of the Doubleday-Bantam-Dell group. Essentially that publishing division became an assortment of imprints.
Remember those crossword puzzle books and magazines? Well, Random House sold off Dell Magazines. That remnant of Dell still exists today as a publisher of science fiction, mystery, and horoscope magazines. In 1996, Dell Magazines and Penny Press joined forces to create Penny-Dell Publications. Their Crossword, Logic, & Sudoku puzzle books–among others–continue to remain popular in the United States and Canada.
Penguin-Random House, and the Big
Six Five Publishers
Back in 1973 Random House Publishers had purchased Ballantine Books. 2010 would see Random House consolidate Ballantine and the Bantam-Dell imprints into the Ballantine-Bantam-Dell group.
Random House then merged with Penguin to form Penguin-Random House in 2013. This resulted in an ever bigger, multinational conglomerate corporation with many divisions, publishers, imprints, and lines. Dell would be a casualty of this union.
While Ballantine & Bantam still exist, releasing fiction and non-fiction, Dell no longer is a book publishing entity. However, since Dell’s demise, the name Delacorte Press lives on as a Random House Children’s imprint.
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- NY Times: Doubleday Acquires Dell