Publishing Consumerism: Franklin Book Programs in Iran, 1950s-1970s

This paper explores how a transnational American non-governmental organization, Franklin Book Programs, Inc. (hereafter Franklin), whose branches were run entirely by indigenous staff, spread consumer capitalist ideas, practices, and structures in the Iranian book industry from the 1950s to the 1970s. Largely using under-utilized institutional records and correspondence housed at Princeton’s Seeley J. Mudd Manuscript library, the paper makes three historiographical interventions. First, it demonstrates how America’s peaceful “Market Empire,” as Victoria de Grazia calls it, significantly influenced and altered Iran’s book trade by pushing it towards an Americanized mass market approach and how voluntary organizations like Franklin were so critical to this endeavor. Second, the paper provides a more holistic and interpersonal analysis of a private sector industry in an Iranian historiography that until recently has focused heavily on state industries and macroeconomic data. Third, the analysis cautions against too easily classifying middle- and upper-class Iranians as mindless, gharbzadeh (west-stricken) followers of Western conventions and personnel. Iranian Franklinites exercised an impressive amount of independent control over their branch’s operations, and Iranian book traders adapted, resisted, and responded to American business changes and advice in ways that fit their own goals and inclinations. Ultimately, the paper argues that Franklin, which began operating in Iran in 1954, achieved important but limited successes in building a mass consumer book market. Through its translation, publishing, consultancy, and training programs like the S.S. Offset Press and Jibi bookstores, Franklin simultaneously framed out behaviors it considered illicit and outdated, while also drawing a wider audience of Iranians into a shared cultural space of foreign and domestic fiction and non-fiction that served both the needs of American anti-communism and consumerism.