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Trade versus Mass Market, oh the Humanity!

17 April 2013

From author Gail Carriger:

Talk to me about trade paperbacks: why do people prefer them over mass market paperbacks? Why do you?

First, let me quickly explain that in the US trade-sized paperback books, formerly called quality paperbacks (TR/TP/QP/QPB), are the ones that are slightly smaller than the hardcover (HC/CL) or roughly half-way between the UK’s B format and C formats. These days young adult books, for example, are often brought out in HC first and then TR. I can’t be precise with the measurements because it has come over all non-standard.

Mass markets are those little ones, also called pocket sized (MM/PB/PPB) which in the UK would be A format (although A is slightly larger than the US’s MM for metric reasons). In the US these are 6 3/4 by 4 1/8 inches.

. . . .

[R]ecently rumor has it the market is shifting in preference (in the US) from MM to TR. This may have to do with publishers, or it may have to do with self publishing, or it may be that the MM readers are moving to ebooks.

. . . .

Trade paperback books (or B format) …

    • are less awkward to hold one-handed
    • sometimes (not always) have larger print and are easier to read
    • will stay open better
    • have lighter paper with a nicer feeling texture
    • don’t smell funny
    • have a nicer weight and size
    • are perceived as higher quality
    • have spines that don’t crack as easily
    • better capable of handling thicker books comfortably (although one reader said the thicker the better in MM)
    • have cleaner lines
    • are more elegant
    • hold up better after multiple reads
    • fit better in larger hands
    • are comfortable to read, yet still feel special
    • look better and more book-like on the shelf
    • have bigger/nicer art work on the cover

Link to the rest at Gail Carriger and thanks to Lynn for the tip.


35 Comments to “Trade versus Mass Market, oh the Humanity!”

  1. Gee, most of those positive attributes could be said of my Kindle Fire. Except trade paperbacks don’t have a built in dictionary and you can’t hop on the web if you want more information. And here’s what the Fire doesn’t do within 6 months of buying the book–the pages don’t start to yellow with age unless that’s the setting I choose. They don’t fall out either.

  2. I actually prefer mass market size over trade paperback. Granted, that’s also what I’m used to, as far as books go—the majority of what I read as a teen was MMPB. MMPB is easier to stick in a purse or bag or even a large coat’s pocket.

    Now I have my e-reader (a Nook Simple Touch), and I do the same there. I actually lost it once because I forgot I’d put it in my laptop case.

    • I agree with you, Carradee. More MMPBs will fit in my carry-on than will tradebacks. Tradebacks also weigh more. I don’t take my e-reader because of having to carry converters and cords (and trying to remember not to leave them in the hotel or boat.)

    • I miss the experience of reading a MMPB one-handed while on my side in bed. I think the trades are too big to do that comfortably.

      I read on a tablet, but it’s heavy and I prefer print (so I don’t have an ereader, though I’d probably get a Paperwhite if pressed).

      I lament the loss of the MMPB, but I understand why–there’s not space for one format at the price point, and it’s digital, not paper.

      Also, don’t even get me started on the tall, thin “mass market” paperbacks. Those are so hard to read. I think they were introduced specifically to push people to trade paperbacks from mass market.

  3. Carriger stated she also prefers mass-market over trade, because they fit better in her bookcases, and because they are easier to hold.

    I don’t actually have a preference except I like that mass market are cheaper. Though I love my Kindle, I still love paper books. I’m not a fan of hardbacks, though, and get irritated when my favorite authors release their books only in hardback. I find them very cumbersome.

    This was my favorite part:

    “Also, and I have no idea what this means, but among my social media interactions: Twitter came down firmly in favor of MM, and Facebook for TR. Make of that what you will. Oh, interwebs, what a wild and crazy place you are. I foresee some kind of rap throwdown in the future on this subject. I’m looking at you, Hard & Phirm.”

  4. I like MM better too, and probably for the same reasons as Carradee – it’s what I’m used to. Also, they take up less room, although I constantly get yelled at for wanting to double-stack and double-layer MMPB on the shelves in the library. As long as they’re well-organized it’s not like it’s a lot of trouble to move a few to get the one you want, right?

    What I hate hate HATE is the extended MM format that’s slightly narrower and much taller than a standard MM. IT DOES NOT FIT IN MY SHELVING SYSTEM. It is neither fish nor flesh, nor even good red herring. Make it stop.

  5. Totally prefer mass market. Trade are bulky and harder to snuggle with and make me sore from the weird positions I have to finagle into to read them in bed.

    I really, really wish mass market was a standard size on Createspace. It is a standard size but they are kind of forcing the issue on the larger books, which I have never liked. I’ve always liked smaller books.

  6. Lynn,

    I am the complete opposite. I prefer hardcovers over every other format, as testified by my extensive library (84 boxes of books with the last move)and have no plans to stop collecting.

    This doesn’t mean that my Kindle is empty by any means, I pack that sucker full. But if I like a book or author enough to want to keep his work on the shelf, it does so in hardcover form.

    Its become a form of the spongworthy debate. Is this book spongworthy? Will I revisit it? Will I want to reread it in the future and leave it for my kids someday? It’s actually happening more since I got my Kindle. The only problem I have is that very few indie authors produce a hardcover. I’m one who thinks a house without a library lacks soul.

    Maybe that can be the next question; Should indies be producing hardcovers? Wool is on the shelf as well as on the Kindle. Are indies losing sales if they don’t have a hardcover version of their book?

    • 84??

    • Are there cost-effective hardcover solutions for indies?

    • I prefer hardbacks for the same reason: durability. The other night I picked up my paperback copy of de Camp’s The Wheels of If I bought second-hand a few decades back, & was distressed that the binding had begun to fall apart. Now that’s a book I want in hardback, & I don’t know if I’ll be able to find a hardback copy I can afford.

      But I only want hardback copies of books I know I will re-read. I have a few Mickey Spillane titles on my shelf that are paperback, & if they start falling apart I’ll toss those without regret.

      As for hardback indies, is it fair to assume that when the demand is sufficient writers will listen & release hardback editions? They may not come out soon after first release, but IIRC hardback copies of many author’s books only came out after their death, so sooner than that would benefit all parties.

      • Some indies are doing format releases in reverse order from trad publishers: ebook first, then MMPB or TP, and finally HC if the interest warrants it.

        • That makes perfect sense for newcomers to the genres. Expect to see it become the default for indies and small press.
          It is also the default for Random Penguin Solutions’ (Hail) Hydra and the other BPH Predatory Presses but I wouldn’t hold it against it…

  7. I’m not sure I prefer one over the other, especially now that it’s been a few years since I’ve bought an actual, physical book. Generally what I bought were trade paperbacks, but I’ve got nothing against mass market. I bought MM mostly because they were cheap, and cost more than anything was the primary issue. Cheaper books meant I could buy more books.

    It strikes me that the reason publishers go with trade for lots of these YA books is that they probably have a somewhat larger profit margin and those readers are likely to be more obsessive about purchasing books in a series, and parents more likely to spring for them despite the somewhat higher cost–but that’s just a guess.

    If I could have published in the MM format on CreateSpace, I would have. It’s clearly set up to push people toward trade paperback sizes. That’s fine, but I’m pretty sure the price drove away quite a few potential readers. For that reason alone, I’m not sure I’ll even bother with a print version of my next book. The difference in sales numbers is an order of magnitude in favor of ebooks.

  8. Of course, the trouble with MMPB is that those aren’t trade books. Which, thanks to the brain-damaged practices of Big Publishing, means that they are treated by retailers as magazines rather than books. When you return a book for credit, you actually return the thing, and it can then be resold — even if only to a remainder dealer. When you ‘return’ a mass-market paperback, you strip off the cover and send it back for full credit.

    Retailers generally won’t order in MMPBs unless they are strippable, because it would confuse the hell out of them to have some books strippable and some not, and no way to tell t’other from which. I can’t say I blame them — but I do blame the return system.

  9. “When you return a book for credit, you actually return the thing, and it can then be resold — even if only to a remainder dealer. When you ‘return’ a mass-market paperback, you strip off the cover and send it back for full credit.”

    Excellent point. When I worked at a bookstore I would almost cry when the boss gave me boxes of mass markets for returns. Ripping the covers off of something someone had written and COULD STILL BE READ if given the chance. Also sucked knowing the return would be taken from the author’s royalties.

    I love MMPB over any physical style. Prefer my e-books above all, now, unless I love the book so much I want hardcopy for my shelf (like buying the DVD of a movie I’ve already seen).

  10. The only group which actually prefers trade paper are publishing folks, and that’s because (as Tom points out above) they get more money for them.

    I suspect most readers like a hardback when it’s a “treasured artifact” and a mass-market or ebook for reading. We buy the trade paper because it’s all that is available.

    On the other hand, for nonfiction — especially reference books — we’re used to trade paper. O’Reilly never does a mass market.

    • O’Reilly never does a mass market.

      For the excellent reason that the charts and graphics that they love to put in their books wouldn’t be legible if shrunk to fit on a 6 3/4″ x 4 1/8″ page.

      You also can’t do MMPB interiors in colour — the presses aren’t designed for it, and the paper stock used doesn’t take process ink very well.

      An O’Reilly book in mass-market would be like, well… rather like an O’Reilly ebook. A while ago I bought the Kindle version of O’Reilly’s WordPress: The Missing Manual. They appear to have dumped the PDF of the trade paperback straight into a MOBI file, without editing or checking. So you get things like garbled subheadHow WorDPress Worksings (with weiRD capitalization and coloured text) embedded right in the middle of paragraphs of body text. It’s the damnedest thing to try to read. Quality control does not appear to have been so much as an afterthought.

  11. I have a stack of Amazon boxes that contain hardcover books by authors I preorder religiously but end up reading on my Kindle or listening to on my phone. I really ought to open them to make sure Amazon hasn’t caught on and is mailing me bricks.

  12. My copy of Diana Wynne Jones’ Charmed Life is a MMPB, and it currently sits in three separate pieces on my bookshelf. Now it’s true I’ve read it once every year since I purchased it in 1982. But…wouldn’t a trade paper have withstood the (ab)use better? I’ve heard that trade paper is just like hardback except for the soft cover. I trust my Kindle edition (purchased last week, when I determined that reading a book that threatens to fall from 3 pieces into 5 is challenging!) will weather my re-reading best of all, so long as the electricity keeps flowing. All things pass away? 😉

    • Trade paperbacks have cruppy bindings with a horrible lack of glue or adequate sewing. In no way are they “just like” a hardback.

      Also, they bend a lot more easily than a regular paperback, because they are too big to be really strong.

      Also, they don’t fit well in a bookcase, and they don’t stand up without a lot of help and cramming.

      Also, I hate them.

  13. Wow, that list of “benefits” is just opposite of my perception of the things, but I got a real laugh out of “looks more book-like on the shelf.” These books are more booky than those other books! A whole new category to be book snobbish about.

  14. The real drawback about waiting until “sometime after midnight” to come in and read comments at tPV is that by the time I get here (and some days that’s much later than midnight), everything I was thinking has usually already said and more eloquently.

    Not exactly complaining, as I come charging in here to go, “WAT. Really? Am I the only one?” and find out that, no, I’m not. Reassuring.

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