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.