We owe a huge debt to Gnome Press, a small start-up science fiction publisher that launched in the wake of World War II and failed because it couldn't pay its authors. As Andrew Liptak explains over in Kirkus Reviews, Gnome made Asimov's I, Robot possible, and gave us the first themed anthology.
The whole story of Gnome Press is well worth reading — both for its glimpse into the very different world of post-war science fiction fans and writers, and for its tantalizing hints of what might have been, if Gnome founders Martin Greenberg and David Kyle had had better business sense.
But especially fascinating is this detail, about how Gnome's risk-taking approach led to a science fiction classic:
In 1950, Isaac Asimov began looking for a new home for some of his short stories. As the book market began to grow, a number of authors started looking into carrying their earlier publications to a new platform. Rebuffed by his current publisher, Doubleday (who wanted new material, rather than repackaged short stories), Asimov approached Greenberg, who was eager to publish his stories. Asimov pulled together nine of his robot stories: "Robbie"; "Runaround"; "Reason"; "Catch that Rabbit"; "Liar!"; "Little Lost Robot"; "Escape!"; "Evidence" and "The Evitable Conflict" into a single volume called I, Robot. Gnome released the collection at the end of 1950, with some of the stories reworked to include his character, Susan Calvin, telling a larger story of the evolution of robotics. The collection was a successful one, and Asimov brought Greenberg another series of books for which he would be well known: Foundation. First serialized in magazines, Gnome brought Asimov's Foundation trilogy to hardcover between 1951 and 1953. Gnome began bringing on other well-known authors to their stable, including works from Robert E. Howard.The first Howard novel, Conan the Conqueror, appeared in 1950, and was followed by several others over the coming years.
And there's also this fantastic quote from Frederik Pohl:
But if you look at one of Gnome Press's old catalogs, you find you are staring at a million dollars. The authors they had! Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein. Arthur C. Clarke. They had them all. They had the rights to books that have collectively sold tens of millions, perhaps hundreds of millions, of copies since, and they had acquired them at prices that would make a cat weep.
The whole thing is well worth reading. [Kirkus Reviews]