From Hardback To Paperback In 6 Months?

Reading & Writing


Despite its idiosyncrasies (shorter battery than promised, occasional blackouts for no reason, no wi-fi) I still love my Sony eReader. But last weekend I bought half a dozen books, some of which were secondhand, some new. There were a couple of hardbacks I wanted – available on Kindle but not ePub – so what do I do? I’ll wait for the paperback.

Publishing is not a very green industry. As a reviewer, I often get sent an ARC (advanced reader’s copy) of a book first, then the hardback, and then the trade paperback. Two of these go to waste. But now, because of eReading, it appears that the window between hardbacks and paperbacks may finally be closing.

Hardbacks are traditionally sent to reviewers, for no good reason I can think of. They’re great for collectors, but who else? Trade paperbacks are even worse, and I’ll go out of my way not to buy one – they’re huge and ugly.

Now the New York Times reports: ‘Publishers say they have a new sense of urgency with the paperback, since the big, simultaneous release of hardcover and electronic editions now garners a book the bulk of the attention it is likely to receive, leaving the paperback relatively far behind. They may also be taking their cues from Hollywood, where movie studios have trimmed marketing costs by steadily closing the gap between the theatrical release of films and their arrival on DVD.’

True, and Hollywood could reduce its piracy problems by releasing all formats simultaneously. It’s not something film distributors want to do because they lose a ‘First Reduction’ window – they often sell most DVDs the first time prices are reduced. The film and DVD have been around long enough to register in consumers’ minds, and the price becomes appealing.

How about books, though? Recent fiction and non-fiction titles in the US have benefitted from 5-7 month paperback windows. But why not go lower still? Paperback buyers and hardback buyers come from different market sectors. There are certain books I will always buy in hardback, but I won’t be tempted to buy the paperback as well.

This is a good move for all concerned. But in the UK, digital rights remain a mess. A search this week for 20 of my favourite authors yielded just 3 available in ePub format.

5 comments on “From Hardback To Paperback In 6 Months?”

  1. Hah, I love trade paperbacks. I don’t know why, they’re just more comfortable to read. I find mass-market paperbacks to be snappish and too tight.

    You’re right about the gap closing though, the publishing house I work for pushes hard to have all ebooks available the same day that the physical book goes on sale.

    Which means I should get back to work, hah.

  2. Vickie Farrar says:

    Fabulous tunnel?/well? of books.

  3. I.A.M. says:

    A week or so ago you asked why titles can’t be released world-wide simultaneously in eBook format if films can be? The only one I know of happening was the world-wide simultaneous release of most of the latter Harry Potter… books. The eBooks can’t be done that way because most of the large publishing houses still cling to the geographical-based model for rights purchasing. I happen to think that’s daft, which makes Atomic Fez books in both an impossible position (due to wide distribution placing titles in competition with every other book in the world) as well as an excellent position (because the entire world has access to the titles).

    This isn’t an answer, I now realize. Poop.

  4. Helen Martin says:

    In whatever form books are published I want one that I can read without having to wrestle it. I have been reading one of Jack Whyte’s tomes and think that it should have been bought in hard cover, not only because I will probably read it several times but also because, as it is, I have to balance forcing the thing open far enough to read with ensuring that I don’t break the “binding” and spring the pages loose. You couldn’t put this trade paperback in your pocket, Chris, unless you were wearing cargo pants with a great expansion factor, so that argument doesn’t wash. Perhaps there should be reasonable limits on the number of pages in these smaller formats. No matter which format a book is released in there will be complaints from readers. Issuing all formats at once might help but probably wouldn’t because there would still be complaints of some sort.

  5. Helen Martin says:

    In whatever form books are published I want one that I can read without having to wrestle it. I have been reading one of Jack Whyte’s tomes and think that it should have been bought in hard cover, not only because I will probably read it several times but also because, as it is, I have to balance forcing the thing open far enough to read with ensuring that I don’t break the “binding” and spring the pages loose. You couldn’t put this trade paperback in your pocket, Chris, unless you were wearing cargo pants with a great expansion factor, so that argument doesn’t wash. Perhaps there should be reasonable limits on the number of pages in these smaller formats. No matter which format a book is released in there will be complaints from readers. Issuing all formats at once might help but probably wouldn’t because there would still be complaints of some sort. (Perhaps the book tunnel/well arises from Mr. fford’s efforts.)

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