That iconic purple cover we all read in high school

With the news that Harper Lee’s estate/Tonya Carter continues to be…well, something else, by killing the mass market paperback edition of To Kill A Mockingbird, I thought I’d take a brief look at that iconic purple cover everyone around my age read in high school.

Unsurprisingly, I own two copies. They look like this:

purple cover 1

Left is published under Warner Books and the right is published under Grand Central Publishing. Why are the covers the same if they’re published by two different companies? Because they’re actually not two different companies. They’re the same company! At the time of printing, Warner Books was a subsidiary of Hatchette Book Group USA (later renamed in 2008 as Hatchette Book Group). In 2007, Warner Books was renamed Grand Central Publishing. (A full history of Hatchette Book Group can be found here on their website.)

I still don’t know to how to read paperback printing numbers (worst book collector), so I don’t know exactly when the books were published. However, this dates the edition on the left sometime between 1970 and 2007, and the edition on the right sometime between 2007 and 2010, when the purple cover was replaced the beautiful black and yellow 50th anniversary cover (which I will talk about in a later post.)

I don’t remember where I bought the Warner Books copy, but my paternal grandmother was the one who procured a copy of the Grand Central Publishing from her favorite library’s Friends bookstore, the Santa Clara City Library, in Santa Clara, CA. All benefits support the SCCL Foundation and Friends group, which in turns supports the library. Yay for Friends of the Library groups!

Back to the books.The front cover differences are obvious: the illustration on the Grand Central Publishing cover is bigger and it is missing the charming/hilarious book description of “The Timeless Classic of Growing Up and the Human Dignity That Unites Us All“. What on earth.

The back covers are largely the same so I didn’t take a picture of them. The description of the books is word for word with the bizarre exception of how  many books are in print and how many languages the book has been translated into. It is bizarre mainly because the Warner Books cover correctly states that TKAM has been translated into 40 languages whereas the Grand Central Publishing cover states that it has been translated into 10 languages (in 2007 it was well over 10 languages). Not sure what happened there. Warner Books states that over 15 million copies are in print while Grand Central Publishing says 18 million. This may or may not be correct. By 2015, TKAM had sold more than 40 million copies world wide. Is Hatchette only counting their editions in the Warner Books/Grand Central Publishing covers? I have no idea.

The price is also different on the back covers: $6.99 US/$9.99 Can. for Warner Books versus $7.99 US/$9.50 Can. for Grand Central Publishing. It is (was) up to $8.99 US now.

Anyway, the books are slightly different sizes!

purple cover 2

You can sorta see it here. The Grand Central Publishing edition is larger. This is because the font and the spacing between lines are bigger, and because they don’t cram the chapters together without page breaks:

purple cover ch 2 1

Warner Books.

purple cover ch 2 2

Grand Central Publishing.

I was unfortunately unable to find information on who did the front cover illustration. If anyone has any leads, please pass them along! I would really love to know more about it.

It’s such a shame that the Harper Lee estate is pulling the mass market paperbacks from publication. I cannot see any reason to do this other than it being a cash grab and honestly, that’s despicable. The large paperback editions by HarperCollins go for $14.99 US. For some students, the price is not going to be an issue, but for kids who don’t have that extra $6 and can’t find a copy at a used bookstore, that is going to be tough. HarperCollins is going to offer schools the option of buying copies for $8.99, which is nice, but not every school is going to be able to afford, say, 150 copies of To Kill Mockingbird.

I hope future generations of the Harper Lee estate reconsider their stance on mass market paperbacks and realize that TKAM will continue to sell thousands of copies worldwide each year. Mass market paperback editions may cost less, but they help students and teachers. Isn’t that more important than making money?

I’m sure the estate is set for life with the royalties from the book anyway. But no one asked me.



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