The publication of a new book has always been an event of cultural, public and, of course, commercial significance. Both author and publisher are keen to let the public to know about the new book, and thus encourage sales. To this end, special posters are printed to promote book distribution and sales. These posters are commercial advertisements that say a few words about the book with a view to catching the eye and conquering the heart of the observer.
These posters are a rich source of information for those interested in the history of publishing and book distribution in Israel. They shed light on many aspects of the process, among them reading habits, commercial strategies and assumptions regarding the reading public, vehicles of expression and advertising tools.
This exhibition features posters produced by Israeli publishing houses from the 1930s to the early 1950s. The posters offer us a contemporary perspective on the times in which books, both well-known and less well-known, were issued as well as on the means employed to distribute them and the events held in their honor. The items on display here are a small representation of the National Library’s collection of posters and advertisements.
The contemporary reader may be surprised to know how little has changed. The world of publishing we know today, is very similar to the one portrayed here. From marketing strategies to attempts to tie readers to publishing houses by means of subscriber schemes and discounts, from the sale of popular books in installments to gala launches of new books, the posters speak volumes.
In 1946 for example, the publication of a novel by Leah Goldberg was celebrated with an event. The term used was "party" rather than "launch" and the poster promises a speaker who has praise to deliver. The strategy is familiar to us, though the register may be different. An interesting fact is that the book "Vehu Haor" was offered to subscribers for 57% less than the marked price: 25 Israeli lira instead of 58.
The appeal to specific target audiences is also familiar, though the nature of these audiences is decidedly different now. Sifriyat Hapoalim targets audience that it assumes to be potential clients: "The working man, educated person, youth – Sifriyat Hapoalim is your library". The working man comes before the educated one. On the other end of the political spectrum is the Etzel organ Sifriyat Hamered, which sought to promote books about the Etzel's heroism and achievements in the struggle against the British.
Books by leaders are not a recent phenomenon. For example, David Ben Gurion's book Anahnu Veshcheneinu (Us and Our Neighbors), published by Davar in 1931 was promoted. Once again, a familiar phenomenon in an unfamiliar register; the poster explains that the book is about "the Arab question and our policy" – the first person plural being characteristic of socialist Mapai. Uri Avnery's 1948 book "Bisdot Pleshet" was aggressively marketed: "Thousands have bought it - you should too!" All imperatives appear in masculine nomenclature of course. In another case, a book entitled "Between a man and his wife" attests to the fact that self-help is also not a genre of recent advent. According to the poster, the book deals with "the sexual problem from a psycho-spiritual point of view".
These posters announcing the appearance of new books and promoting their sales attest to the structure of the cultural arena at the time: popular and high literatures, ideological and recreational literatures, and political literature – sometimes even sponsored by parties and institutions. Thanks to these posters, which were intended to be transient – mere cultural ephemera -- the contemporary observer can recognize and identify all this, in addition to discovering the social and cultural atmosphere that prevailed two or three generations ago.
As the institution responsible for curating the national cultural heritage, the National Library has, since its inception, collected posters depicting various types of activity and creative enterprise and preserved them for posterity. These materials are a documentary record of everyday life in Israel, both pre- and post-state. Over the past year, the National Library has begun to make its collections of posters and flyers accessible to the general public, both in Israel and abroad.