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Ian Ballantine: prophet of profit

by on
in Best-Practices Leadership

In college, Ian Ballantine wrote a paper on the potential profitability of paperback books. The paper should have earned him an A.

At that time, paperbacks were asso­ciated with “trash novels,” but one publishing house, Penguin, was publishing paperback editions of mainstream books. Penguin snapped up Ballantine, and for several years he oversaw its U.S. distribution, importing British books by authors such as H.G. Wells.

With his wife, Betty, Ballantine founded Bantam Books in 1945, a re­print house that specialized in paperback versions of classics by authors such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Mark Twain.  Their low prices—generally 25 cents when hardcovers sold for $2—made them brisk sellers and the first books to be widely available in train stations and grocery stores.

The Ballantines rode Bantam’s success to found Ballantine Books in 1952, which offered paperback editions of works by science fiction greats Arthur C. Clarke and Ray Bradbury. In 1974, the Ballantines sold their business to Random House. By Ballantine’s death in 1979, Ballantine Books had a backlist of more than 3,000 titles.

— Adapted from “20th Century Great American Business Leaders,” Harvard Business School, www.hbs.edu/leadership/database.

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