In a related note to last night’s story on hardcovers vs. paperbacks, today Publishing Perspectives carried an interview with Randy Petway, vice president of digital publishing services company Publishing Technology. Much of the interview talks about things that mainstream publishers could learn from academic publishers, but he also talks about the potential threat e-books pose to print books.

Petway notes that not everyone values the physical properties of books (look, feel, smell, etc.), and that “At the end of the day, if your goal is simply to read, then the e-book is not just acceptable but preferable for flexibility and portability.” And he also notes that the mass-market paperback, while not “doomed tomorrow”, may well be on the way out.

[It’s] a convenience issue. Here’s an example: Borders are closing 700 more stores across the US. One of those is local to me. Now in the past on my way home from work, I might have gone in there to browse because it was convenient. Now it’s gone and the closest bookstore is eight or nine miles away. I’m not going to drive that far to look for a paperback, so I’m more inclined to buy it as an e-book. People are not buying mass market paperbacks as objects, they buy them to read. So they’ll go with convenience, which is to download with one click.

Thanks to the power of the one-click purchase, Petway points out, e-book shopping turns book-buying into impulse buying. No futzing around with cash or your credit card number—you set that up ahead of time so all you have to do is click and the book is not only yours, but readable right now.

In a separate post, Edward Nawotka notes that the genres that have traditionally done well in mass-market paperback form are also leading the market for e-books, and wonders whether this means the mass-market paperback’s days are numbered.

It’s an interesting time we live in, where on the one hand someone can point out that the needs of paperback buyers aren’t being served when they’re windowed in favor of hardcovers, and this is absurd in an era when the e-book version can be bought instantly—and on the other, someone else points out that e-books are going to replace mass-market paperbacks altogether, Is one or the other of them right? Or both? Or neither?

On a related note, Paid Content is carrying a chart showing that paperback sales have been declining at the same time e-book sales have been rising. So there might just be something to it at that.


  1. I’ve been noticing a trend of publishers moving away from MMPB to trade paper, anyway, regardless of the ebook trend. There are several authors I read whose books used to be issued in MMPB but now are only issued in trade, and in fact, the back catalog of the series has been reissued only in trade. Donna Leon and Christopher Fowler are two authors for whom I’ve seen this happen. I own their earlier works (pre-ebook) in MMPB, but now you can’t buy MMPB editions of their work, and the books I own have been reissued in trade paperback.

    So, yes, I think MMPB is dying, but it’s not clear that ebooks are the culprit. I would guess that the narrowing of the price difference between trade and MMPB is as much a factor. Why pay $8 for MMPB when you can get trade for $10?

  2. From what I’ve heard/read, the publishers are moving authors to TPB based on what they expect for total sales. If the total sales are expected to be below a certain amount, they go to TPB because the higher price and lower print run give them the desired profits. With more heavy readers switching primarily to ebook, it lowers the expected total print sales, and if it drops enough, they’ll just do a trade edition. And this is a plus for the publisher because they justify the higher price for the ebook by comparing it to the TPB price.

    I don’t buy many paper books any more but even when I did, I’d rather buy a MMPB over a TPB even if the price were the same because the MMPB usually takes less space.

  3. Space and convenience is an issue… the publishers switching to TPBs are ignoring the fact that people have less space in which to keep books, bags and purses are often optimized for MMPBs but not TPBs, and of course, ebooks trump them all for space and convenience.

    But if publishers switched to TPBs to essentially save money by lowering print runs; and ebooks continue to erode print sales; they may give up TPBs eventually as well, and the only products they’ll sell will be hardbacks and ebooks.

  4. They aren’t only moving to trade, there’s a another new mass market format that’s wider than usual (instead of the one that’s taller than usual), kind of a mini-trade looking thing that has a list price of $11.99.

    ‘Queen of the Night’ by J.A. Jance is one example of this new format. Hard to tell how prevalent it will become at this point of course.

  5. Why pay $8 for MMPB when you can get trade for $10?

    because a lot of people don’t like the ergonomic factors of trade, and this new format that’s even more expensive is also much less ergonomically friendly. A move away from mmpb will push me even more into ebooks.

  6. “. . mass-market paperback, while not “doomed tomorrow”, may well be on the way out”.
    Wow … Mr Petway is a real prophet.

    I find it a little comical that these people still think hard backs will survive. I guess it took them this long to wake up to the change, it’ll take them another while to cop on.

  7. Trades have a number of advantages including the fact they are cheaper to print than hardcover while being just a bit more expensive than the massmarket.

    They are the preferred size for POD so they make a great choice for backlist and for books that aren’t guaranteed big sellers.

    And, perhaps, most importantly, trades don’t have their cover stripped and returned for a refund like massmarkets so they stay on the shelves longer than a few weeks.

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