Trade Winds

By Louise Ure


I wrote a blog post a couple of weeks ago about the length of books, and whether it mattered that a book was especially long or short. I have another size question today folks, and it’s about paperbacks.

Specifically, trade paper editions versus mass market paperbacks.

My editor recently told me that The Fault Tree would be issued as a trade paperback next spring. Imagine my glee! (Please God, let them keep the same cover.)

As both a reader and a writer, I adore trade paperback editions. There’s just something so posh … so sexy … about them. Something that says “Doesn’t this feel good to hold?” and “I’m something special.” And the fact that they only cost $14 or $15 doesn’t go down hard either.

I have a number of them on my shelves. “Ahab’s Wife.” “Empire Falls.” Christina Schwarz’s “Drowning Ruth.” Milan Kundera’s “The Unbearable Lightness of Being,” and Wallace Stegner’s “The Big Rock Candy Mountain.”

They’re about as tall as a big, spread hand, but they have the grace of a fine evening bag. The paper stock has depth and character; the typeface is elegant and cool. They whisper: “This is for the shelves; don’t trade me in at the used bookstore.”

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love being published in hardcover, too, but there’s just something about coming out in trade paper afterwards that makes me feel like I’ve been made love to two times in one night.


But J.B. Dickey of the Seattle Mystery Bookstore has a different take on it:

“Trade paperbacks are expensive paperbacks. The great thing about the mass market paperback is the reason it was created – to reach a mass audience. There is still a need and a demand from that mass audience and, as the middle class and lower class are squeezed further and further and have less disposable income, a book that costs $14.95 takes the place of two mass market books that cost $6.99 or $7.99. Authors, I think have been hoodwinked – to a large extent – by the false allure of the trade paperback.”

Moi? Hoodwinked? Well, it’s happened before, once by a skydiver named Steve …

“It’s far harder,” he goes on, “to introduce a reader to a new author at $14.95 than it is at $6.99 or $7.99, which hurts newer authors. A lot of folks don’t want to take a chance.”

Damn. And here I was just feeling good about the fact that I wasn’t asking them for $24.95.

“And, from a bookseller point of view,” he continued to dampen my spirits, “trade paperbacks means less cash flow because trade paperbacks cost us more money and therefore more money is tied up in stock on the shelves.”

Well, he’s right. Trade paper is more expensive than a mass market book. But doesn’t it just scream “I’m for discriminating buyers” and beg for face-out placement on the shelf?

I guess the answer is both yes and no. We’ve all become more discriminating buyers in this new economy, now weighing how many soft cover books we can buy instead of how many hard covers. And that decision reaches into the trade versus mass market distinction, too.

Lesa Holstine, uber-librarian from Glendale, Arizona adds this:

"For shelving, I definitely prefer the trade. Mass market doesn’t fit on existing [library] shelves well.

For reading, it’s a toss-up. All I really care about, and all my patrons care about, is the size and quality of the print. Some of the trade paperbacks actually have print that is too light. I hate that, and my patrons complain. We want a nice size, legible print. [And the trade paperbacks are] not necessarily a better investment. The mass market paperbacks do hold up just as well. 

I will say, with budget cuts … if we buy anything, it will probably be the most reviewed, most popular materials.  Unfortunately, that means fewer mass market paperbacks in our collection. I, personally, think you’re better off with [your book] coming out in trade. We’re more likely to replace a copy with a trade paperback than mass market."

So, from my wee sampling effort, I’m hearing that:

•    Readers like trade paperbacks, but it may be a price point issue if they’re divvying up a smaller book-buying budget and now have to choose between mass market and trade offerings.

•    Authors like trade books because they make them feel special and loved … unless, of course, they mean fewer sales.

•    Booksellers aren’t crazy about them.

•    Libraries don’t mind them a bit, but it wouldn’t be the first thing they turn to in a budget crunch.

What say you all, as readers, writers, sellers, librarians?

Don’t mind me, I’m just going to keep rolling around in that great, good feeling that a trade paper release gives me. Even if it’s all in my head.



34 thoughts on “Trade Winds

  1. jodi

    …as a former bookseller, yeah–they sure take up space. So it becomes a profitability thing. Space is valuable. They’re taller and wider, and you can fit less of them on the shelf, and they don’t sell well unless it’s Christmas. People give trades as presents because nothing says, “I love you” like a book the recipient doesn’t want, but the giver had to get because it was big and shiny. Gift cards work better. Books are like cars. The minute you drive it off a lot, it becomes a used book, and loses value to everyone except the reader who wants it.

    …as a buyer, I hate buying trades, not because I can’t afford it, but because if I love you, I’ll buy you in hardback the minute you come out, not wait for a trade, and if I don’t love you, I’ll buy you in paperback, because paperbacks take up less space on my already loaded shelves, and if it’s not a great read, I won’t think about the other stuff I could have bought with the money. And if I’m checking out a new author–no way am I paying hardcover or trade price.

    It’s like the progression of the O’Conell novels. I found one at the library. I bought the next in paperback to see if I’d like it enough to spend money on it. I bought all of them in paperback (there were too many to buy in hardback) and now I’m right there, bothering booksellers to get it the day it comes out in hardcover. Trades don’t even cross my mind. BUT, they make great gifts (could be why the LaHaye books are in trade format, and so much non-fiction). And they’re what I expect in libraries, because the bindings hold up better than mass market.

    In fact, I have a trade under my bed right now.

    But it was a gift. 🙂

  2. Wilfred Bereswill


    I guess it’s a Greener Grass thing. I’m with a publisher who only does Hardback and Trade Paperback. I’m praying for a mass market release later. Now, my novel, A Reason For Dying was just released a few weeks ago, but already I’m hearing the “WHAT? $14 on Amazon? When will the mass market paperback come out?” Yes, I like the feel and the look and the fact that I can ALMOST read it without my cheaters on, but…

    By the way. The dog. A Soft-Coated Wheaton Terrier? My Wheaton, Fraiser, just passed away at the old age of 14 on the 4th of July. Your picture made me want to go roll in the grass with him.

  3. Bryon Quertermous

    Nothing pisses me off more than seeing a book I wish I could buy but can’t afford and then waiting for the paperback only to find the damn thing is in a $14 trade only.

    I think trade PB is a good format for starting new authors in though. What I wish we would see more of is authors starting off in trade and then having a mass market release a year or so later.

  4. Naomi

    Trade is a great format. It’s easy on the eyes but it’s not heavy like a hardback. Your publisher must see the FAULT TREE as a literary crossover. Book clubs tend to prefer trade to mass market.

    My mysteries came out as trade PBOs and now the first two are in mass market format. I love mmpbs because of the price point. Heck, I can give some of them away without feeling a huge dent in my pocketbook. But when I’m at festivals and the mmpbs and trade PBOs are lined up together, more than half of the buyers choose the trade format. They tell me they like it better–they don’t seem to care about the extra cost.

    I also think trades play better with younger women who are foraging through the new release paperback table. With that cover and the title, how could they resist picking yours up?

  5. Karen Olson

    Love trade paperbacks. They fit nicely in my bag for bus reading and they’re easy to hold. Sometimes a mass market is too stiff and don’t fold open easily. And hardcovers are too…heavy and cumbersome. Don’t get me started on those weird, tall mass markets that fortunately don’t seem to be catching on all that much.

  6. Dana King

    I like trade paperbacks, but as substitutes for hard cover, not mass market PB. To me, releasing a book in trade PB will should ease a newer writer into the marketplace easier than a hard cover. I think re-releases should almost always go to trade, even when the original was hard cover.

    As for tade vs. mass market, I’ll confess that just last night I picked up a copy of Upton Sinclair’s OIL, after seeing THERE WILL BE BLOOD. The publisher had elected to release this 1927 book as a trade for $15.00, instead of a mass market for $6.99. I decided to take it out of the library instead. Sinclair’s dead. I saw no point in paying the publisher that much for doing nothing more than printing up copies.

  7. Alexandra Sokoloff

    I think trade is really pretty and sexy but I don’t end up reading a lot of them. It’s a wrist thing for me, which someone else here mentioned recently. I’m always straining my wrists in workout classes and MMs are lighter and easier to hold, plus I have to admit I am really hard on my books and feel less guilty abusing a MM.

    As a new author I am very grateful that the HCs are selling well to libraries and also very grateful to come out in MM second – because of the price point.

  8. Louise Ure

    “Nothing says I love you like a book the recipient doesn’t want.” Jodi, that just about says it all. And your progression from library to paperback to hard cover rings so true for me.

    Wilfred, can you or your publisher sell the mass market rights down the line somewhere. (Congratulations on the new book, by the way.) And so sorry about your sweet Wheaton. This photo is a friend’s dog, with the unlikely name of Broccoli.

  9. Louise Ure

    Bryon, I’ve often thought that new authors would be well served to launch in paperback. Your twist on it — a trade paper launch followed by mass market — is even better.

    Hi Lesa! Yes, uber librarian. I meant each word of it.

    Naomi, I hadn’t thought of the appeal to book clubs with this format. That could be an excellent direction for promotion next year.

  10. Louise Ure

    Karen, you’re right. Trade paper books are great for traveling. But with your commute, I see a Kindle in your future.

    Dana, like you, I was comparing hard cover to trade paper in my mental purchase decision. J.B. Dickey is the one who opened my eyes to the more likely comparison between trade and mass market. (I can be a little dense sometimes.)

    Alex, your wrists might keep you from reading a trade paper book? Hmmm …. maybe we should be getting you gift certificates for audio books this year.

  11. Naomi

    Trivia question:

    Can you think of contemporary mystery writers who have had a book published in all of the following print formats in the U.S.: hardcover, trade, and mass-market?

    Laurie King, Alexander McCall Smith (although his trade [No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency] came first, then the mass market and hardcover later in the same year), Walter Mosley (I think his trades came later–maybe Laurie’s, too) and who else?

    Another trend that has come to the U.S. is publishing the hardcover and trade at the same time. That has happened to Denise Hamilton’s THE LAST EMBRACE and a number of anthologies published by Busted Flush Press and the upcoming collection, THE DARKER MASK.

  12. JT Ellison

    My publisher doesn’t do trade, so it’s not something I’ve ever really thought about. I love being in mmpb though. I can talk anyone into spending $7 on my books. I think it’s a brilliant way to get new writers into the marketplace. And despite the fact that I was told libraries don’t buy mmpb, I’ve found that they do, in bulk. Where home my library would maybe buy one or two hardcovers, they bought 22 of my paperbacks. In the long run, when you’re starting out, there’s money to be made this way.

    I like trade,the look and feel, but I do hate the oversized paperbacks. Those are just weird.

  13. Pari Noskin Taichert

    Louise,As a reader, I may be weird but I actually prefer MMPB because they’re so easy to handle. I can stick one in my purse, can hold it easily in bed or the bathtub (yeah, that’s the ultimate indulgence) — even at the gym.

    As a writer, I don’t know. My books only come out in HC and TPB. So, like Wil says, I dream of the day they’ll come out in MMPB.

  14. Louise Ure

    Pari and JT, I understand your love of MMPB, not just for the ease of reading (Pari) or the money to be made (JT). It’s also the opportunity to grow exponentially as a new author, and have that much more opportunity for word of mouth.

  15. billie

    The only mass market pbs I buy are books that are only available in that format. I just can’t get them right in my hands – it seems like they always pop out and I lose my place.

    I much prefer hardcover, and really well-bound trade pbs are okay but not my favorite.

    I wonder if the options will ever be that one can go to the pub. house website, select a title, and order it POD in the favored format – electronic, softcover of various sizes, hardcover, etc. I’d love that.

  16. billie

    Louise, I agree – didn’t mean to cut the bookseller out of that equation! I’d be happy to go to the bookseller, peruse their lovely stock, and order based on my personal reading preference. 🙂

  17. Sharon Wheeler

    Yay for the trade release, Louise! Very cool.

    I never fuss much about which format a book comes to me in, but do admit to a sneaking preference for mmpb, as I can squeeze more of them onto my over-crowded shelves, and I can buy more of them without the bank manager shouting at me. I always associate trade paperbacks with airport bookshops and going away on holiday!

  18. Lori Thornton

    For me personally: If it’s something I’m going to keep, I like trade paperbacks; however, the keepers are few and far between for my fiction collection simply because I don’t have shelf space. I like mass market then because I end up getting better percentage of trade-in value at the used bookstore for them. I guess that in the long run, it’s a toss-up. I like the price of the mass-market best!

    For the library: I prefer trade because the paper quality and binding tends to be better.

  19. Maria

    I don’t like to buy trade paperbacks, and I don’t like to carry them around. If I have a choice, it’s mass market.

    My library prefers hardback above all else (I used to work there) and if I put in a request, they are most likely to buy it if there is a hardback version. They rarely buy mass market; instead relying mostly on donations for that area, although they do buy a few. They buy very few trade paperback from what I used to check-in and check-out.

    I own a few trade paperback books, but I do balk pretty heavily at buying them. I’d ratehr buy a used hardback than a new trade.

  20. louise ure

    Lori and Maria,

    It sounds like you two are both the kind of customers J.B. Dickey was talking about. Hard cover for special books, mass market for all the rest. I can sure understand it.

  21. Fran

    You didn’t get Da Boss started on the “enhanced mass markets” did you, Louise? What a nightmare. They’re the ones that are taller than regular paperbacks but just as narrow, so the print goes into the binding and you have to break the book to read it.

    And customers yip when they see a mass market priced at $10.

    Trades are great for book clubs, I hear, although when someone finds an obscure author and wants to buy a round of books for their club, they really prefer mmpb. But you’re absolutely right. They’re luxurious.

    Hardcovers are the ones I like to collect, although I have limited space any more, somehow. But being a bookseller, I’m not a typical customer. For dedicated fans, hardcover’s the only way, and they’ll balk at anything less. But to introduce an author, that’s a tougher sell.

    It’s true, if I want to make that introduction, mass market is by far and away the easiest sell. Especially in these economic times. Gas or books? Food or books? I don’t think of us as a luxury item, but I admit to a deep bias. Others would definitely say fiction is a luxury.

    It’s a tough call, and it does come down to personal preference, but it is hard to accurately judge how to spend our precious capital on getting your books out to your adoring public.

  22. louise ure

    Fran, so glad you’re checking in to represent the troops in Seattle. Yeah, JB would have gone on at length about the “enhanced mass market” books. I got an earful just asking about trade books.

    And how sad that so many of us might be having to choose between food, fuel and books!

  23. I.J.Parker

    As a reader, I prefer trade paperback to mass market. As a writer, I’ve had problems selling in hc and looked forward to selling better in trade paper. Ultimately, however, I doubt it made that much difference. My hope now (for books other than the Penguin series) is to get a hc plus mass market pb release. Strangely enough, in France I have trade paper plus mass market, but I don’t think that is done here.Actually, when I chck amazon, the hardcovers as well as the trade paper releases are frequently marked down severely, so I think readers should not complain too much about cost. It’s just a matter of waiting a bit.

  24. Katherine C.

    First, I’m a day late on this, but wanted to put my two cents in. I’m not a fan of trades. I’ve always preferred mass paper to hardbacks — even in my favorite authors, I can’t really put a finger on exactly why, I just do. Mass are smaller, easier to fit into a purse or fit several into a carryon when traveling, and I just like curling up with one better than a hardback, and to me, the trades are just a less-sturdy version of the big, bulky less comfortable hardbacks. Also, what Bryon said:”Nothing pisses me off more than seeing a book I wish I could buy but can’t afford and then waiting for the paperback only to find the damn thing is in a $14 trade only.

    I think trade PB is a good format for starting new authors in though. What I wish we would see more of is authors starting off in trade and then having a mass market release a year or so later.”

    I hate seeing or reading a book I really like in hardback, waiting patiently for the paperback so I can/will take it home and then finding out they’re not doing mass market, just trade >:(

  25. I.J.Parker

    Actually, of course, the poor authors have nothing to do with this, so don’t blame them. At best, they can refuse a trade paper contract and rather not publish the book. Would you want them to do that?

  26. Donna Schilero

    In this economy I do not know how you can think that spending $14 or more for a trade paperback is a good deal. I also do not like them in the library. I feel the library should carry the hard cover edition which holds up much, much better. People who like to read and are buying many books definitely like the mass market paperback.

  27. Shannon

    Sorry I’m late to the party but I just read about it on Lesa’s blog…As a librarian with a small budget I have my own personal and professional feelings about the MMPB vs TPB formats.In my library, we have a 35 shelf selection of hardcovers, a 30 shelf selection of MMPB and a 12 shelf selection of Trade and the trade paperbacks often go overlooked by our patrons. I do purchase them if it’s my only option for a new author to the library unless it’s getting rave reviews and then I purchase hardcover. Many of our MMPB are donations but I do also buy those (romance, romantic suspense, fill-in copies, replacement copies, etc.) I don’t know why the patrons shy away from the trade paperbacks but I can usually sell them on it if it’s the only way a book I’m recommending is available.In addition, I have many older patrons who have complained about the portability and the font type found in the trade paperbacks.Those with severe arthritis want the light and easy. Those with failing eyesight in denial prefer the hardcover versions.Personally, I don’t care if it’s a book I want to own/read. But even in my own personal collection I have far more MMPB books than trade or hardcover but I’m cheap. The years I’ve spent at my library have made me that way!


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