The launch of the Oscar series, the first low-cost paperbacks.

One needs to reach out to readers: the Oscar Mondadori

An elated Arnoldo Mondadori looked at the success of the Oscar series as proof of his long-standing belief that “Italy has a mass of potential readers that just need to be reached”. In order to reach them Mondadori targeted newsagents, a more spread out distribution channel than bookstores but also a less convenient and uncertain one.

And so it was that in April 1965 a large advertising campaign preceded the distribution throughout Italy of the major works of Italian and foreign literature in the Oscar format to be sold at newsstands for only 350 lire.

"Every Tuesday an Italian or foreign classic, unabridged text and impeccable translation,” read an advertisement for the launch of the new book series. "From old-time classics to best-sellers, from crime fiction to romances: all you are looking for is in the Oscar books”.

The first title of the series, Farewell to Arms by Ernst Hemingway, sold 210,000 copies in a week and doubled that figure in the following two months. New series were soon added to the original one, such as a monthly series devoted to poetry and theatre and a twice-monthly one for history, biographies and memoirs. Both were published between 1965 and 1967. In 1967 Mondadori published the first essay in the Oscar series, Guerrilla Warfare by Ernesto Che Guevara, soon followed by Erich Fromm’s The Art of Loving and a dossier on the Dutch Catechism that stirred much controversy in the Italian Catholic world. In 1968 the Oscar Libreria (1968-1978) was born, a series exclusively for bookstores that hosted more complex works such as Thomas Mann’s Doctor Faustus and Bertrand Russell’s History of Ideas of the 19th Century.

The number of series kept growing until a major restructuring in the 1980’s aimed at reorganising the works published until then in easily recognisable genres.