hardbacks vs. paperbacks

John Barlow has this to say about hardbacks:

Personally, I think hardbacks are a disaster for the emerging writer. Who the hell wants their book out at $25 instead of $15? It’s crazy. How many readers regularly plump for new/unknown writers in hardback? It’s an extra ten dollars that you are risking.[…]

My first book came out in the UK in hardback, and just to cap it all they upped the cover price to a fairly steep £15 ($25ish) just before publication. Who on earth was going to pay that for an unknown writer of short fiction? Even friends winced. The book flopped on the Roman scale, and paperbacks were never mentioned.

(via The Reading Experience)

His comments on the economics of the thing seem like good sense to me (not that I’m a publisher or an economist). But also, on a personal level: I hate hardbacks. I can’t be the only one. They’re heavier, they take up more room in your briefcase/handbag/pocket/luggage/bookshelves/bedside table, they have pointy corners, and the dustcovers go missing or get ripped. Offered a choice of paperback and hardback at the same price, I’d take the paperback every time. Having to pay an extra tenner for the hardback just makes me feel ripped off, and I only do it if I’m very very eager to read something. Far more often, I see something that looks good, decide to wait for the paperback, and never get around to buying it. It is, basically, a fucking stupid system, and the sooner publishers make paperback originals standard the better.

2 replies on “hardbacks vs. paperbacks”

Yes, but …!

I like having a hardback copy of books I’m likely to return to again and again – I’m slowly building up a hardback collection of Terry Pratchett books, and I always regret never geting my hands on the complete hardback collection of Dr Doolittle books that my Grandfather used to let me hold but never read when I was a kiddie.

Still, except in a very few cases publishers have got the whole thing the wrong way around. Books should be published in paperback in the first instance, and only when there’s likely to be a demand for it should publishers go ahead and produce a hardback edition of the book. That makes economic sense.

The few rare cases involve well known authors whose books are likely to be “heavily” borrowed from public libraries – in these cases it makes more sense for the library to invest in the hardcopy version as it will be more durable than the paperback.

The only books I know of that sell as hardbacks in massive numbers are the Harry Potter books – which have always been an exceptional (and completely unexpected) publication phenomenon. Who says kids don’t have economic muscle …


And of course if you want to throw a book at someone, a hardback is much more likely to stop them in their tracks.

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