little volume of gentlemanly wisdom.
Pittsburgh, PA (Vocus) August 25, 2010
Dorrance Publishing Company, Inc., established in 1920, donated the first copy of the very first edition published by the company to the University of Pennsylvania’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library for archiving and preservation on August 6, 2010, the date of the company’s 90th anniversary.
In the Lee Library in the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center of the University of Pennsylvania.
Elizabeth H. House, former Managing Director of Dorrance and previous owner of the firm, presented the edition to Daniel Traister, Curator Research Services of the Annenberg Rare Book and Manuscript Library and Lynne Farrington, Curator of Printed Books.
An original letter from Gordon Dorrance, the company founder, which confirms the book’s authenticity, accompanied the first edition, Broken Shackles by John Gordon. Broken Shackles, a novel, is unlike many of the Dorrance titles already archived at the University of Pennsylvania’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library, which are volumes of poetry.
Colonel Gordon Dorrance, a member of the distinguished Main Line Philadelphia family that owned Campbell’s Soup Company, originally founded the company in 1920. Throughout its history, Dorrance has had only five owners; all have held the company for long periods of time and were committed to its mission of offering excellence in publishing opportunities to authors, most of who have been new and unknown, and who believe in their work and wish to exercise their rights of self-expression.
The Dorrance family owned and operated the company for five decades, then during the 1960s the ad agency Dorrance had worked with in promoting its books, Briggs & Associates, purchased the company. After a number of years Anthony Parrotto, who was the ad agency’s accountant, bought the firm and took on the role of president until the early 1980s. While building Dorrance, Parrotto had spun off a new ad agency and printing firm, The Kingswood Group, and wanted to direct more of his energies into the development of that other business. Elizabeth and Robert House, both of whom had many years of experience in traditional publishing, then purchased the company from Parrotto. Finally in 1989, a successful Pittsburgh businessman, who had founded and owned several businesses in Pittsburgh, purchased the Dorrance name, assets, and inventory. Elizabeth House stayed on as managing director for sixteen years. From its first location in downtown Philadelphia, to Ardmore and Bryn Mawr on the Main Line, the company moved in 1989 to western Pennsylvania and took up headquarters in downtown Pittsburgh where it remains to this day.
The Dorrance saga is a reflection of historic changes in publishing in the United States throughout the years. When the country was new, one of its most well-known and lasting works, Poor Richard’s Almanack, was written and published by Benjamin Franklin. As time went on and the costs of printing became more economical and more people could read, greater numbers of books were printed. By the late 19th century, a hundred years after Franklin, most books published in America were paperbacks that were pirated from European publishers. American book publishers were not likely to publish American authors when they could “borrow” from European authors. In 1891 copyright law was introduced to protect European authors. This change forced American publishers to begin to publish original American manuscripts. Still many well-known authors, Whitman and Poe for example, had paid for the publication of their own work, and the tradition continued.
Legend has it that, early in the next century, Colonel Gordon Dorrance had a dispute with his publisher, Scribner’s, over the editing of a book titled The Pocket Chesterfield, and so he started his own company and published the pocket book himself in 1920 under the Dorrance imprint. A 1921 issue of a publication titled The Independent contains a review of the book, listing Dorrance as the publisher and calling it a “little volume of gentlemanly wisdom.”
Nineteen years later, Dorrance was still successfully releasing titles, including Gordon Dorrance’s own historical work, The Bonapartes in America, published in 1939. That volume remains available today through Kessinger, Publishers of Rare Reprints.
In 1955 Dorrance published a volume of poetry titled Ommateum by A. R. Ammons. This collection helped establish Ammons’ career as he went on to win the National Book Award in 1972 and the National Book Critic’s Circle Award in 1981. The 1950s also featured Dorrance in the then new medium of TV as Lucy Ricardo wrote and submitted a novel to Dorrance on Episode 90 of “I Love Lucy.”
After receiving rejection notices from traditional publishers, Doris Paul published her seminal work, Navajo Code Talkers, with Dorrance in 1973. This book, having sold almost 100,000 copies over the years, is still in print with Dorrance. It has been featured by the Smithsonian Institution, was the subject of four segments of CBS’s “An American Portrait” series, and provided the basis for a major motion picture released by MGM Studios in 2002 titled Wind Talkers. The book and movie tell the dramatic story of the courageous and critically important platoon of American Marines who developed a code based upon their native language that the Japanese were unable to crack during World War II.
Ken Bruen, popular and highly acclaimed mystery writer who has been a finalist for the Edgar, Barry and Macavity Awards and the winner of the Shamus Award for best novel in 2003, published his first book with Dorrance twenty years ago.
Over the years Dorrance has been at the forefront of the technological advances that have transformed the book publishing industry. In the 1960s when typesetting was first becoming computerized. Dorrance embraced the change and purchased its own typesetting equipment before most publishers would consider the new approach. During the 1990s when higher quality laser printers became available and could be used in conjunction with offset presses, Dorrance began to experiment with creating its own repro for cameras that produced negatives that were then chemically burned into plastic plates. Later in that decade, Dorrance became the first subsidy publishing company to use print-on-demand technology. Today when the technological explosion is changing the marketplace with high quality e-readers, Dorrance publishes all its titles in both conventional paper format and in all the popular e-reader formats so that all Dorrance titles are available for purchase electronically.
Likewise in the area of promotion, while forty years ago Dorrance press releases, media letters, and flyers were reproduced on a mimeograph machine and placed in the mail, today the company utilizes the Internet for much of its book promotion efforts. Dorrance’s use of e-mail to targeted lists, online press releases, a book review web site for reviewers to request copies of books, social networking, virtual book tours, and online bookstores represent an approach to promotion that utilizes the most up-to-date technology available.
During the 1970s the prosperity of publishing houses made them attractive acquisitions for large corporations, and conglomerates purchased most well-known, traditional publishers. This phenomenon dramatically changed the book publishing industry. Previously the vast majority of publishing companies were independently owned and operated. Their editorial boards searched for quality writers and strove to introduce new authors. With financial officers of corporations in control, over time modern-day publishing companies have come to rely on issuing books by established authors and celebrities and on following proven successful formulas. The number of new authors published by these houses is extremely small. Ironically the small monopoly of conglomerates that became interested in the industry for profits and that has controlled publishing for thirty years finds itself now in a deteriorating position that has been described as the “death of traditional publishing.” A multiplicity of causes is offered, but at the heart of the difficulties are the technological developments that have introduced digital printing, web retailing, cyber communications, and social networking. As Michael Levin, an industry expert, has stated, traditional publishing is “a victim of its own inability to find a reason for being in the Internet and print-on-demand world.”
Even beyond the impact of technological changes, the acceptance of subsidy publishing and self-publishing as primary means for authors to communicate with their audiences has diminished traditional publishing while highlighting the benefits of subsidy publishing and self-publishing options. All forms of self-publishing are growing while traditional publishing declines. Alice Pope of Writer’s Digest says, “Self-publishing can be just as much the author experience as (for) those picked up by major publishers because these days it’s mostly up to the author to publicize their book and market it.”
The company continues to lead in the subsidy publishing field by selling more books than any other subsidy publishing company and by offering a wide array of publishing services that can be tailored to each manuscript, author, and budget.. With all its various imprints - Rose Dog Publishing, Red Lead Press, and Whitmore Publishing - Dorrance and its related programs provides authors with choices that allow them to become active participants in the new world of today’s book industry where the democratization of publishing means there are more ways than ever for authors to connect with readers to share their creative work and ideas. Dorrance continues to hold to its ninety-year tradition of striving to satisfy its authors by providing excellent service, as is attested to by the fact that the company has maintained for decades a very good Better Business Bureau rating.
The company operates from its headquarters building in Pittsburgh in the historic Triangle Building in the heart of the Cultural Center (next to August Wilson Center for African American Culture). It is conveniently located close to the Pittsburgh Convention Center and train and bus terminals. Authors come from all over the world to visit the offices and are welcome to make appointments to discuss their manuscripts.
As Dorrance looks proudly to its past ninety years, the company sees its potential for growth and success as practically unlimited. In the new climate of increasing acceptance of and broad support for self-publishing and with technological advances that favor its business, promotion and marketing models, with an experienced and knowledgeable staff in place, Dorrance Publishing looks forward to its centennial celebration and the ensuing decades with optimism and excitement.
Dorrance is proud to mark the celebration of its founding with this gift of the first Dorrance book ever published to be preserved for posterity by the University of Pennsylvania Rare Book and Manuscript Library.
For more information, contact Dorrance Publishing Co., Inc.
Dorrance Publishing Co., Inc., 701 Smithfield Street, 3rd Floor, Pittsburgh, PA, 15222