The University of Nebraska Press is not just celebrating its 70th anniversary this year, it's also marking the 50th anniversary of its groundbreaking paperback imprint, Bison Books. Bison Books was launched in 1961 to make classic literature more accessible and affordable, making UNP among the first scholarly presses to release quality literature in a paperback format. The first season's eight releases, priced between $1 and $1.50, included history, poetry, and literary criticism reprints, as well as Old Jules, a biography by Mari Sandoz published in 1935.
"This was a bold move," said Cara Pesek, UNP publicity manager. "[Bison Books] strove to provide readers with literature from such well-known Nebraska fiction writers as Willa Cather, John G. Neihardt, and Mari Sandoz, as well as scholarship and philosophy with broad appeal, like Che Guevara's Guerrilla Warfare."
This season, 23 titles will be reissued in paper under the Bison Books imprint. Spring releases include several classics rereleased as anniversary editions, as well as The Golden West: 50 Years of Bison Books, edited by Bison Books editor Alicia Christensen, one of two UNP staffers who work full-time on the Bison imprint. Golden West, with a 1,500-copy initial print run, contains excerpts from 18 Bison Books editions that have sold particularly well.
UNP publishes approximately 150 titles each year, of which approximately 50–60 are Bison Books. The press netted $5 million–$6 million in sales last year, with paperbacks accounting for more than half of its sales. All UNP titles are distributed by Longleaf Services. For the past 20 years or so, the press has published Bison Book original releases as well as reprints, with the number of original releases varying each season.
Bison Books editions have become, Pesek said, a "mix of western reprints and scholarly but accessible takes on western history." In recent years UNP has been reissuing under the Bison Books imprint classic pulp westerns that "have literary merit," like Murder in the Cotswolds by A.B. Guthrie Jr. The press is also reissuing "well-known" science fiction and fantasy titles under the imprint, such as The Circus of Dr. Lao by Charles G. Finney.
As Bison Books passes the half-century milestone, UNP executive director Donna Shear said that the press is now committed to obtaining the electronic rights to all the books released under the Bison Books imprint (which already owns the rights to most of them), so that they may be released in e-formats. "Fifty years ago, we published inexpensive paperbacks to reach the broadest market. Now, it's e-books," Shear said.