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David Hines [userpic]

what's with the paperback size changes?

November 22nd, 2008 (07:13 pm)

I've mentioned before that I hate the trade paperback format with a passion. With books, that is, as opposed to comics. It combines the worst features of the hardback and the paperback and the best of neither. It's as if the publishing companies sat down and said, "You know what the market needs? Something with the inconvenient size, bulk, and cost of a hardcover, with all the durability of the paperback, that costs twice as much as something in paper."

I can see why they'd want to sell it to us, sure, but there is no reason in the world for me to want to buy the damn thing. The only reason I do is that a lot of the books I want to buy, particularly in nonfiction, never make it to regular paperback, and I can't get them any other way.

Lately, though -- for certain values of late; I've been meaning to post about this for a good while -- I've noticed a new and annoying wrinkle: they're changing the size of paperbacks.

That's two books by Richard North Patterson, as photographed by my crappy cameraphone. THE RACE, on the right, is maybe a quarter of an inch taller than SILENT WITNESS, on the left. They're the same width. The difference is small, but it's off-putting visually and tactically, and it makes the book harder to open, especially around the middle. That extra quarter-inch is pricey, too: SILENT WINESS runs $7.99, the typical price for paperbacks, but THE RACE is $9.99.

I can understand having to raise prices; I can even understand charging more for your most successful and in-demand authors. But for the life of me, I don't know why they're screwing with the book size to create a product that is less comfortable to hold and read, and looks untidy on your paperbacks shelf, and charging the consumer more for the privilege.

Anybody have any ideas? And what's the name for this new paperback format?


Posted by: rtred (rtred)
Posted at: November 23rd, 2008 01:06 am (UTC)

It's all about money. The publishing industry is in a tailspin and desperately trying anything they can to keep revenue up. While the bestsellers do rake in scads of cash, they carry a whole truckload of authors that never make them a dime and, in fact, lose them money.

Ebooks (real ebooks -- not the bizarre, DRM crippled things that pass for them now) are going to change the playing field forever, just like MP3s and AVIs have changed the music and movie/television business. The tech for ebooks that you and I would want has been around for over a decade, but it's under wraps because nobody can figure out how to make any money off of it.

The idea of something about the size of a hardback book that would have space for 80-100 books stored on it is mind-boggling. But the idea that people would only buy books on the "honor system" has them running scared, because their revenue would drop. Of course, their overhead would drop, too, as they'd no longer need to print them, but huge, monolithic corporations don't generally tend to have much in the way of foresight.

Posted by: Misha (unmisha)
Posted at: November 23rd, 2008 07:45 am (UTC)

That's why I love Baen Books and their attitude towards ebooks. Free ebooks aren't lost revenue, they're MARKETING! (And they've demonstrated, in hard numbers, that having a free ebook available boosts the entire backlist of an author, in both paid ebooks and physical copies.

Now, if only the rest of the publishing industry could shake off the stupid and get with the program.

Posted by: rtred (rtred)
Posted at: November 23rd, 2008 04:05 pm (UTC)

That's all well and good for now but, eventually, they'll need to make money strictly off of ebooks, and nobody's really figured out how to make that work as of yet.

Posted by: Cos (cos)
Posted at: November 23rd, 2008 06:46 pm (UTC)

There's also print on demand (combined with ebooks). Though I wish they'd let you choose a size format. It should be doable, no?

Edited at 2008-11-23 06:46 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Bill (whl)
Posted at: November 23rd, 2008 01:52 am (UTC)

Wow; I haven't seen that yet. (I live in a town without a bookstore.)

My favorite boxes for books are 24 x 14 x 4, which holds two rows of paperbacks perfectly, and this is going to mess that up. Also, some bookcases I built specifically for paperbacks might not have enough space for me to get a finger in above the new format to get them off packed shelves.

How about we call them "Unfair Trade" Paperbacks?

Posted by: Drooling Fan Girl (droolfangrrl)
Posted at: November 23rd, 2008 02:20 am (UTC)

Personally, I think they're out to get you and the new paperback size is just a ghost of their foul plots.

But the Crocodile's Mouth has been hard at work already and a google on "new paperback size" led me to this:


"Sales of mass-market paperbacks — the compact, inexpensive books found in bookstores, supermarkets and other retail outlets — have been soft in the past five years. So major publishers, including Harlequin, Penguin and Simon & Schuster, are tinkering with the format, hoping a slightly bigger "premium size" will increase their appeal."

they are calling them premium

or at least that's what they want you to think

Posted by: David Hines (hradzka)
Posted at: November 23rd, 2008 02:42 am (UTC)
303 british

Ahh, now that's informative! Thanks.

Those larger formats — hardcovers and hardcover-sized paperbacks, known as trade paperbacks — made up 10% each of all books sold in 2004, according to a Book Industry Study Group report. Mass markets made up 23.3%, but have been declining, while trade paperbacks have been gaining ground.

"A lot of that has to do with Oprah, whose book-club choices were always hardcovers or trade paperbacks," says Leslie Gelbman of Penguin. "People got used to the larger type and a bigger book to hold."


(Hey, radical notion: maybe, just maybe, it has something to do with *what titles* are available in trade. Given a choice between the traditional paperback size and the trade size, I'm buying traditional. But if it's not released any other way --

Side note: I've wondered if the trade paperback is a cost issue on the production end: the pages are hardback size, so they don't need to do another layout.)

Edited at 2008-11-23 02:42 am (UTC)

Posted by: Joe Morrison (argonel)
Posted at: November 23rd, 2008 02:33 am (UTC)

I wonder if the different size is a printer switching from imperial to metric sized paper? No need to ascribe it to malice if simple lack of forethought answers it.

Posted by: Katie (dolique)
Posted at: November 23rd, 2008 04:12 am (UTC)
you have got to be shitting me

see, i love trade paperbacks. they're more portable than hardcovers, but way nicer than mass market editions (and even, i'd argue, than many hardcovers).

but i agree, the weird extra-tall size is annoying enough in itself, and then the fact that they're charging a premium for said annoyance...? NOT ON. luckily (says she snootily) i don't tend to read the sort of popular thriller or crime novel they seem to be fiddling with, so i'm not really affected—but i'm well aware that if publishers manage to put this over on the reading public, my immunity's only temporary.

Posted by: Maire (mkcs)
Posted at: November 23rd, 2008 08:18 am (UTC)

I couldn't agree more. The large-format paperbacks are less readable than the smaller ones.

What gets me is that the whole idea of paperbacks is to sell many, cheaply, to make a profit.

If they can't do that, they need to look at things differently.

Posted by: rtred (rtred)
Posted at: November 23rd, 2008 04:11 pm (UTC)

I'm not an expert, but I believe the profit margin is much higher on hardcovers and trade paperbacks than on mass-market-sized editions. So they can sell fewer of those and make as much, if not more, money.

A trend I've found annoying of late is the tendency of a book to go from trade size to mass-market later. I'd always thought that if a book came out as a trade paperback than that was it -- that was the only size it would ever be in paperback. So, if I really wanted the book in question, I'd have get it in the trade size even though I *hate* them.

Then, six months later, out comes the mass-market size. You bastards!

Posted by: Maire (mkcs)
Posted at: November 23rd, 2008 06:30 pm (UTC)

The frustrating thing is that I'd rather pay more for the little size, since it doesn't hurt my hands and I can manage it one-handed.

Posted by: JB (jbsegal)
Posted at: November 23rd, 2008 06:46 pm (UTC)

I just wrote a really long comment (linked here via vvalkyri) that got eaten. :/

In it I noted
-that I have, after 30 seconds of surveying my shelves, 7 paperbacks in 4 distinct sizes (from the original Pocket Books size on the small end, to Pyramid Books, 1962), that cover heights from 6 3/8" to 7 16", that I have 4 modern mass markets (from 1989-2007) that are all different heights - from a near imperceptible 32d, to a very obvious 1/8"
-That Matt Ruff's Bad Monkeys (2007) has the WORST physical format I've ever seen. (Soft hardback, for want of a better term..)
-That I'd guess the price of The Race was going up whether they changed the size or not, and
-That I'm crotchety and hate all extant ebook readers. :)

In the end, I concluded that the reason for the change you're noting is probably because they're just trying to get things to stand out on crowded store shelves.

You're probably happier it got eaten.

Edited at 2008-11-23 06:47 pm (UTC)

Posted by: 古崇賢, aka Brother Claymore of Perpetual Peace (dcseain)
Posted at: November 23rd, 2008 07:21 pm (UTC)

What is 32d, other than apparently neither a bra size nor 3.2 metres?

Posted by: JB (jbsegal)
Posted at: November 23rd, 2008 07:59 pm (UTC)


Posted by: 古崇賢, aka Brother Claymore of Perpetual Peace (dcseain)
Posted at: November 23rd, 2008 08:12 pm (UTC)

Ah, ty!

I never learned English/Standard measure. I learned SI all through school, and never have had need to learn English, which is a silly system i think. (I had ruled 32 pence, as well. LOL)

Posted by: Not your everyday Viking angel (shadowvalkyrie)
Posted at: November 24th, 2008 07:49 am (UTC)

Yeah, I've been ranting on that as well, already a year or so ago.

combines the worst features of the hardback and the paperback and the best of neither

That truly is the best way to put it! As long as there are still traditional paperbacks available, I simply refuse to buy the new format. *shrugs*

Posted by: Mattia (mattia)
Posted at: November 24th, 2008 01:01 pm (UTC)

...isn't that just a bog-standard B format paperback? I've got a variety of paperbacks in that format, and they've been around for years. I've got 'em from Tor, Faber, Orb, Gollancz, and I'm sure a variety of other publishing houses. Seems to be used for books they're trying to market as a bit 'literary', most of the time (snapshot impression, anyway).

In short, it ain't new, and I estimate about 1/3 of my current (largey SF) bookshelf is B format paperbacks. Then again, I really do like hardcovers quite a lot.

Posted by: Mattia (mattia)
Posted at: November 24th, 2008 01:04 pm (UTC)

...quick google led me to this 2001 Guardian article. I'm guessing B format is more popular in the UK (which is where most of my library's form)


Posted by: BenYitzhak (baroncognito)
Posted at: January 20th, 2009 06:40 am (UTC)

I prefer trade paperback size to mass market. Mass market is thicker and sits awkwardly in pockets. Trade paperbacks are taller and wider, but slimmer. Also, I have an easier time holding the wider pages open with thumb and pinkie.

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: October 29th, 2009 11:32 pm (UTC)

Do you understand why I look ebooks better? Because then there's no reason to complain about sizes. Font sizes can be adjusted and stuff.

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