TNB Night Owl – Generic Books

Generic books. Photo by Alien Motives

When Alex Cox directed the odd “punk comedy” movie Repo Man in 1984, he had a unique vision of product placement. Rather than worry about specific branding, he replaced most of the labels in the movie with generic versions. The result was visually striking. One thing he did not do, though, was make all of the books in the movie into generic “books”. To do so would have undermined his movie-length poke at the ubiquitous “Dianetics”.

Warning: scene includes some adult language.

More importantly, he’d have already been too late on the joke. Leisure Books beat him to it by six years.

In 1978, Leisure decided to take advantage of the inflation-weary nation by introducing generic books. They were marked “Inflation Fighter” and “Unbeatable Books at Unbeatable Prices”. The rear covers promised “Full-length novels by some of America’s best-known writers. Highest quality – lowest prices.”

To be completely fair to Leisure, they were full-length novels. “Best-known writers” was hardly accurate, however. While Leisure did procure professional writers for the novels, many of them were short-storyists with a handful of sales, making their debuts as novelists. It also wasn’t exactly fair to call them “inflation fighters”. The books were priced at $1.50… as were many other books in early 1978.

Leisure was simply attempting to cater to what they saw as a growing trend across the country of purchasing low-cost generics. They cut the cost of cover artists, gave book contracts to people who were desperate enough to accept meager compensation, and reaped a greater-than-normal profit off of each “low cost” book.

At least that was the plan.

What was driving people to buy generics was not fashion, but necessity. People were being stung by prices rising faster than wage growth. Recognizing a need for staple items such as food and paper, they were resorting to generic versions in an effort to stretch their purchasing power. When they had enough to splurge and purchase something for entertainment, the last thing they wanted to do was be reminded of their fiscal straits.

Generic books died a very quick death, with the lines limited to one or two titles in genres such as “Science Fiction”, “Western” and “Mystery”.

Perhaps Leisure should have had one for “Marketing” as well.

Question of the night: What’s a brand that, in your experience, lives up to its hype?

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About AlienMotives 1991 Articles
Ex-Navy Reactor Operator turned bookseller. Father of an amazing girl and husband to an amazing wife. Tired of willful political blindness, but never tired of politics. Hopeful for the future.