Friday, July 14, 2006

Trade Paperbacks Are The New Black

I was browsing Booksquare last night when I came across a link for the NY Times article, “A Stirring Family Drama Is A Hit (In Paperback).” The gist of the article is that a whole bunch of books that only do moderately well in hardcover are being runaway bestsellers in their Trade format.

To this I rolled my eyes and thought, “No shit, Sherlock.” (I was in a mood, mostly because I’ve known this for quite some time, but hadn’t bothered to blog about and now the NY Times had beat me.) I once even had a twenty minute conversation with a distributor about the “demise” of the HC (as we were calling it), and how they should just do a simultaneous release of the HC and the trade to make everyone happy.

Why?

“The target audience for a paperback is often different from that for hardcovers. “I think of paperback readers as the smarter, hipper, younger readers,” said Marty Asher, editor in chief of Vintage/Anchor Books, the paperback imprint of the Knopf Group. He noted that books like “Never Let Me Go” by Kazuo Ishiguro, or titles by Haruki Murakami, the Japanese novelist, tend to appeal to readers who frankly prefer the lower price of a paperback.”

Trades are also favored by book clubs, easier to stick in a briefcase or a large purse, and just all around lighter. They are also more ergonomically sound than a mass market (and the evil Venti), which means they appeal to older customers as well as those who have wrist problems, and a higher overall production quality.

Time limits me from going on and on about this subject in detail (all do that later), but I want to hear your thoughts. Given the choice do you want trade or hardcover? Does it depend on the genre? What books do you think will just explode once they are printed in their Trade format?

34 comments:

Anonymous said...

I read on the bus to and from work. Hard covers are unwieldy on the bus and heavy in my bag for the rest of the day. Thus, I only buy hard cover books when that's the only way I can get the book I want *immediately* - ie, new Jenny Crusie or, truthfully, new Harry Potter.

lady t said...

I don't mind hardcovers(all my Harry Potters are HC) but paperbacks do have plenty of advantages. Of course,I'm spoiled by ARCs,many of which are HC size yet trade bound.

I think that first time novelists benefit the most from trade editions. Most people don't want to spend $25 bucks or more on someone they're not familar with. For $14 dollars,folks are more willing to take a chance. There's plenty of success stories out there-the Times article highlighted the newest book club darling,The Memory Keeper's Daughter-and genre superstars like Laurell K. Hamilton and Sophie Kinsella had their starts in trade form.

In Europe,there's more PB than HC in the bookstores(atleast there was when I went to England in '02)-maybe that'll be the wave of the future?

E is for Editrix said...

My goodness, I love trade paperbacks... One of the trends that I can't stand is the hardcover children's book. I mean, I know Lemony Snicket and Spiderwick are all cute in their paper-over-board formats...but does everything warrant it? Eh. I've heard parents complain too ala "$12 for a book my kid is going to read in 3 days?" I hear ya.

And as for my own reading list? Unless I'm in huge rush to read the book, I'll wait till it's out in paperback. Subways and jacketed hardcovers don't go together. Too bulky.

E is for Editrix said...

Lady T's comment reminded me of something though...when I'm reading a series (like HP) I have to stay in the same format throughout. So if the first one I buy is hardcover, so be it.

And of course I'd never wait to buy HP before it was out in paperback. I wait long enough as it is...

Shanna Swendson said...

I only buy hardcovers when it's a new book in a series that I'm not willing to wait for (Harry Potter) or when it's by an author I love who is also a personal friend (and usually then mostly when it's on sale or I have one of those nifty extra 15 percent off coupons from the bookstore and I want to maximize the value by getting something a little more expensive than a paperback).

That's largely because I'm poor and rather cheap and I'd rather get two or three books (depending on cost/format) than one book, but also because I find hardcover books uncomfortable to read. They're hard to hold, and I can't toss one in my purse to have handy for unexpected waiting situations. I certainly don't travel with hardcover books. I also don't have the bookshelf space for hardcover books. Plus, I can usually get any popular hardcover at the library. If I like it when I check it out of the library, I may buy the paperback when it comes out.

Eileen said...

I love the look of hardcover- but rarely buy them. Like everyone else I will for certain authors, but generally I prefer the trade. I would almost never buy a new author in HC, unless something about the review etc. blew me away.

Kendall said...

I've gotten thriftier over the years, so I buy more MMs, some trades, and fewer HCs than I used to. But certain favorite authors, I still buy in HC or trade. Also, if there's a HC/trade omnibus & I'm confident enough I'll like the books, I'll buy that. (Hooray for the Science Fiction Book Club's omnibuses, e.g. The Sundering by Jacqueline Carey and Temeraire by Naomi Novik.)

I prefer sticking to one format through a series (more now than when I was a kid, judging from my library ;-). But, great timing for your Q -- I broke this "rule" 2 days ago; I ordered Stackpole's Cartomancy in trade, after waiting for & reading A Secret Atlans in MM. Why? Book 1's poor quality MM (but I liked it enough to justify paying more for book 2). This MM's paper was thin, and/or the printing was poor, so print bled through from one side of the paper to the other; some pages were murky and it was distracting. (Not sure I've ever had a MM so poorly printed; I haven't checked the bookstore to see if it was just a flukey bad copy.)

HC is great, but trade's probably the best compromise/combination of features. Large yet flexible, easier to read without breaking the spine than MM, high quality paper (brigher than MM = easier to read), attractive, cheaper than HC, no dust jacket to hurt (or bother removing).

It's funny you ask: Just this week, I've been thinking I may start buying more trades (and maybe HCs), because I can afford it & wouldn't have to be as careful as with MMs re. breaking spine, smudging ink, etc. And why not improve the physical experience of reading, instead of pinching pennies.... But I have to fight my thrifty side (we'll see ;-).

Robin Brande said...

I have mixed feelings about this--in part because my own novel will be coming out in HC before it goes to trade, and I happen to love that.

I buy HC when it's a book I want to hang on to and reread--Harry Potter, Lemony Snicket, true-life adventure tales that I know I'll pass around to friends and want back in decent shape.

I'm also with Shanna that I'll buy HC of my friends' novels because I want to add to their royalties and also have the novels as keepsakes.

But overall I love trade paperback. I like the look of it, the size of it--much more than mass market. If I have a choice between MM and TP, I'll always buy the trade. MM seems too disposable.

The one time I'll choose mass market is when I'm taking a book backpacking. Then I don't feel bad about breaking it in half and packing just the part I know I'll finish. I'd never do that to a trade paperback--it would hurt too much.

Kendall said...

p.s. Gift-giving is the big exception. Unless the recipient specifically asked for a particular book in a particular format, then I strongly prefer hardcover for gifts; if there's no HC, then a trade is fine; MM for gifts only if a better format's not available.

Rosina Lippi said...

I have a terrible weakness for well put together, beautifully designed hard covers. I have a lot of them, signed first editions, first printings. But in those cases I also have a reading copy -- preferably trade paperback, if it exists.

There's no contest when you compare trade paperbacks to mm. Trades are better put together, nicer to handle, and last longer. Don't tell my publisher this, but I think it would have been a good idea for my recent novel to come out in trade rather than hc. And I wouldn't have been at all insulted by the suggestion.

Allison Winn Scotch said...

Robin-

My feelings echo yours almost to the letter. My book is debuting in HC, and while it makes me a bit nervous, for all of the reasons mentioned above, I still adore HCs and buy them fairly often. Particularly when I'm ordering from Amazon - with the discount, I don't pay more than $15 anyway.

That said, there are certainly benefits to TP - easier to travel with, cheaper, etc - but if it's a book I want to hang on to, I'll nab it in HC.

Marta said...

I echo the feelings of Kendell and Rosina. I love the heft of a good HB, particularly older books with high quality paper and excellent printing. However, I rarely buy HB unless the author is a favorite and I know I won't be disappointed.

I like the value of MM. It's great to have a book that you can shove in your purse, dog-ear, etc. I do wish that the manufacturing of MMs was held to a higher standard. I've bought too many books with pages bound off-center and covers that curl immediately because they're printed against the grain for maximum production value.

TP, when well printed, is a nice midground. Many of the covers are attractive, production quality is higher than MMs, and the cost is reasonable.

Molly said...

I make $7 an hour. I can't afford hardcover unless it's a must-read-can't-wait type of situation. Plus, I try to keep my "permanent collection" small and portable, so 9 times out of 10 when I'm finished reading a book I'll pass it on to a friend (if it's good) or donate or sell (if it's not.) So the idea of the book lasting forever is not super important to me.

But like everyone else I make an exception for Harry Potter, which I buy in HC and keep all for myself.

quiche said...

HC doesn't necessarily mean a book is put together better, most bindings are glued instead of sewn and the paper quality is not as high as in the past. I've got older HCs that are beautifully made--sewn bindings, silky paper and cloth covers. The covers of most HCs are like posterboard. I usually buy in trade paperback and MM when I buy, I'm cheap. I like to buy gift books in HC, but those are often remainders, like I said, I'm cheap.

Jennie said...

It's just about price for me. I read a lot and if I paid $25 for everything I bought, then I'd have no money for luxuries like food and shelter. I buy maybe 2-3 hardcovers a year. And those are books I know absolutely 100% I'm going to want to keep forever and read many times. Otherwise I get it from the library and wait to buy the pb.

Now, if I had tons of money, then I'd buy lots of hardcovers. And I'd be a very happy reader.

Marg said...

Most books come out straight away in trade paperback here. There are the odd exceptions of course, but generally straight to TP and then mm. And I like it that way.

Robin Brande said...

Jennie, your comment reminds me of that great character Harry in John Irving's A Widow for One Year. He's a policeman, and doesn't make much, but he saves it all to spend on two luxuries: firewood and books.

Bernita said...

I do like paperback, particularly for favourite genres for the same reasons mentioned above.
But do try to up-grade for "keepers."

SelahWrites said...

Robin Brande's comment reminded me that I have all of John Irving's in HC. I buy lots of trade, but for particular authors I go with HC.

I ordered Donna Tartt's The Secret History in HC from Amazon. The plastic outer jacket is driving me around the bend. It became wrinkled in shipping and I am unable to get the kinks out. This minor detail is cutting into my reading pleasure, an unfortunate thing. If my novel were (oh, please let it happen....)to be published in HC and they suggested this sort of vinyl outer sleeve thingy, I'd likely burst into tears.

Little Willow said...

It's less about being "hip" and more about being CHEAPER.

nir said...

I almost always buy paperback if there's a choice. Why? I just like paperbacks. They're lighter, easier to carry around, easier to read, and if you wear one out you don't feel horrible about it. And yeah, they're cheaper, but that's not as much of an issue now that I'm in my forties.

If there's no choice and it's something I've always wanted to read then I'll buy a hardcover, but it's not my first choice.

Ms. Librarian said...

I only buy first editions of something I collect in hard cover. For reading, I always buy paperback.

Lisa Hunter said...

I have such an addiction to coffee table art books that all my other book purchases tend to be trade paperback. And frankly, the only time I get enough quiet to read is in the bathtub -- so being able to hoist a book in one hand is critical.

Anonymous said...

I always prefer paperback. I travel a lot. They are smaller and lighter. I do buy hardcover books when that is the only way they come (often technical).
Johnwrt1

Christine Fletcher said...

As a writer, I was thrilled when my publisher decided to go hc, mostly because everyone told me that hc books are more likely to be reviewed. I don't know if this is actually true, but I have gotten Kirkus, Booklist, and SLJ reviews, which I'm stoked about.

For personal preference, though, I'm a pb girl all the way. HC's are just harder to handle and bulkier to carry.

It'll be interesting to see what my own sales do, once the book is in pb format (and all those nice review blurbs make it onto the cover!)

C.W. Cale said...

Yeah... what they said! (all of them!)
QP is the way to go I figured this out mid 80s with "Vintage Contemporary Paperbacks" such a cool line. Intro-ed me to Emily Prager and other great contemporary writers I would NEVER plunk down $20 college US dollars for, I had WASHING to do! and TEXT BOOKS to buy and I think that all that still applies to current "kids" and smart old farts like meself.

Some of my favorite authors I will still buy in CL, ahem, HC! But more and more I really like the design that goes into the QP. Thrillers and Crime novels always look better in the QP format and it's not just me, book-boy, that notices! The public too seem to like the "book club" size as they tend to call it. (we won't go into what a BCE really is!)

Cheers! Good topic!

Dalia said...

I prefer Trade or MM because of the greater comfort level when reading. I like to curl up/lie down/sprawl out/whatever and the HC doesn't make life easy. It detracts from my overall reading experience.

In addition, I just look at the wide spacing and large font and think - what a waste of paper. It's not to say they've marketed HCs for people with poor eyesight specifically so I don't understand the need for all that floating white space.

Dalia

Noelle said...

Like Dalia I find hardcovers too unwieldly because I like to read in bed holding the book in one hand, while the other hand is often petting the cat to keep her at bay.

I forsee book publishing going the same way as movies, which are starting to release on DVD and in the theatre at the same time. Why shouldn't the consumer be allowed to choose which format is more agreeable?

Bethany K. Warner said...

Depends on the book which way I'll buy it.

I think Kevin Donohue's "The Stolen Child" will explode when it hits trade. The buzz is good now and it's a sure-fire book club book when it's more affordable.

Bernita said...

As to what books will explode?
Popular series, maybe?

Susan Adrian said...

I love trade size, and would happily buy everything in that if I could. It seems to have become the default for historicals, anyway. Too big to be comfortable in hardcover, maybe?

Kanani said...

If the book comes out in hardcover, I usually wait until the paperback comes out mainly due to the cost.

If I'm buying a used book, and if it's an author I really like and am trying to collect all of his or her books, then I'll usually look for the hardcover versions.

Eoin Purcell said...

I love hardbacks especially for new non-fiction which I know for certain i will retain for reference. The cost though means i don't splash out on them all the time and buy a lot of paperbacks.

alau said...

Jumping in late, but I too prefer paperback to hardcover for many of the reasons listed above; cheaper and I can toss it in a bag, and read it on the subway without it being too unwieldy. Rarely do I shell out for hardcover unless it's author I really like. But another reason that I tend to stick to trade paperback may be generational; I'm in my mid-20s and have moved at 3 times in the last 4 years. I anticipate at least 2-3 more moves within the next 5 years (due to career moves and stuff) and you know what? Hardcover books are too frickin' heavy to be cartin' in boxes. I think in your mid-20s (at least nowadays) people tend to be more nomadic and the consumer choices we make reflect that.