11

I was a big fan of Digital Solutions Inc.'s Paperback Software, a Commodore 64/128 productivity suite that featured an interoperable word processor (Paperback Writer), spreadsheet (Paperback Planner), and database (Paperback Filer). The word processor in particular had a combination of features (columns, a spell checker, compatibility with GEOS and with competing productivity suites, a built-in fastloader, and near-WYSIWYG 80-column editing, even on the C64) that was seldom found in other products.

One thing about the suite that always confused me was its abrupt name change. Some time around 1986, all the software titles were renamed from Paperback to Pocket. Digital Solutions announced the new name in its advertisements, but didn't provide any explanation for the change:

Excerpt from a 1986 Digital Solutions advertisement: "Only The Name Is New – The professional, full-featured software line from Digital Solutions is now called Pocket Software. Pocket Writer 128/64. Pocket Filer 128/64. Pocket Planner 128/64. The names are new, but this super software is still the same. From now on, when you hear the word Pocket, it means software that's full-featured, handy and easy to use.

Does anyone know why the name was changed? Digital Solutions had already invested heavily in promoting the "Paperback" name in print and video advertisements, such that the products had attracted good reviews and brand recognition. It's unlikely they would have thrown all this out on a whim, or simply because they liked the new name better. But even if that were the case, the announcements about the renaming certainly would have mentioned the old name (e.g., "Paperback Writer is now Pocket Writer!"); instead, it is conspicuously missing. This makes me suspect that the name change was prompted by some legal dispute, and that they were no longer allowed to mention the old name at all.

Most likely there was some existing brand of software that had "Paperback" in its name, and whose publisher objected to Digital Solutions's use of its trademark. Does anyone know what that software might be and who published it? An alternative scenario might be that Northern Songs, the publisher of the Beatles song "Paperback Writer", sued or threatened to sue Digital Solutions for evoking a connection between its software and the song. This scenario is legally less supportable, unless perhaps Digital Solutions was using the text or music from the song without permission in its publicity material. But I'm not aware of any advertisements where this is the case.

8
  • 6
    Apple Corps, which held rights to the Beatles songs, did sue Apple (Computer) a few times. I guess it's possible that Digital Solutions got some sort of warning and decided to play it safe. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apple_Corps_v_Apple_Computer
    – Nimloth
    Apr 7 at 13:37
  • 1
    I don't know how copyright and trademark laws would interact with distinctive phrases on songs. Titles are not copyrightable in and of themselves, but I would think Disney should have basis for complaint if e.g. some competing studio wanted to proclaim that their movie was "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" even though that is simply the title of a song. I do know that whenever I heard the phrase "paperback writer" the Beatles song came to mind, and my thought when I heard about the name change was that it was because of conflict with the title of the song.
    – supercat
    Apr 7 at 15:01
  • 2
    I don't think that Apple (music) would have known or cared back in the early 80s, especially for a small product like this. People were copying arcade games wholesale after all. It's more likely that they renamed it because people might see 'Paperback Writer' and think it was designed only for writing novels.
    – Alan B
    Apr 8 at 7:00
  • 1
    It could be so simple that they just thought that the new name was so much better that it wasn't worth mentioning the old name. A lot of products have changed name through the years without any external pressure to do that. Pocket is a shorter word than Paperback, so that could be the reason they internally decided to change name, and why mention a name you don't want anyone to use anymore? I think the last paragraph in the ad shows quite well why they thought it was a good name to change to.
    – UncleBod
    Apr 8 at 8:55
  • 3
    As @UncleBod says - it looks like they changed the name of all their software titles to "Pocket <something>", so it is likely that Paperback Writer merely followed this new format rather than anything else.
    – Edders
    Apr 8 at 11:21

1 Answer 1

11

The name changed due to an Adam Osborne launched company, Paperback Software, also launching a product called Paperback Writer. They were HQed in Berkeley.

The earliest mentions I can find for Paperback Writer go back to 1985, where you'll find comments to the effect of "Osborne's Paperback Writer". They also launched Paperback Speller which worked on a variety of DOS word processors. So I suspect the product was available for DOS around that time, although the only reviews I can find are for V1.0 around 1988, where it was not well loved.

The earliest mentions for the Canadian C64 product with the same name I can find are from 1986, but I suspect it was available before that point. In any event, the two products were definitely from the same time frame.

Osborne's company won the ensuing argument about rights to the name (no surprise there!), and Digital Solutions renamed all of their products to the new "Pocket" series - and later, LDP.

This is from David, the primary author of Writer. He didn't recall the name of the other company, but a bit of Googling turned it up immediately. I'm surprised he didn't recall it being Osborne though!

3
  • I assume that by "David", you mean the "D. W. Foster" who is credited as Paperback Writer's writer and co-designer in its reference guide…?
    – Psychonaut
    Apr 19 at 10:07
  • Interestingly, the September 1988 issue of COMPUTE! has brief write-ups of Adam Osborne as "president of Paperback Software" (p. 32), and of Digital Solutions renaming its own Paperback Writer to Pocket Writer (p. 58), but never draws any connection between the two!
    – Psychonaut
    Apr 19 at 10:24
  • @Psychonaut - correct, he's about 20km away so I gave him a call. Nice find in Compute! It's interesting the issue is so much later, all of this happened circa 86. Apr 19 at 17:25

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.