If you’re an avid reader, book collector, or wannabe writer, you might want to familiarize yourself with the various physical formats in which books are sold these days. You probably already know about hardback and paperback, but can you tell the difference between paperback and mass market paperback books? And why exactly are books published in all these different shapes and sizes? We have some answers, so you might want to read on.
What Is a Paperback Book?
If you enjoy reading, it's likely you've read a paperback book at some point or another. To keep things simple, if the tome didn’t have a hard cover, it was some form of paperback.
There are two different types of paperback books common in the United States - trade paperbacks and mass market paperbacks. While there are a few differences between the two, both are often referred to simply as being softcover books (to better distinguish them from hardcovers).
When looking for the difference between paperback and mass market paperback books, it all starts with quality. Trade paperbacks are the larger of softcover books. These are books that are more similar to their hardcover cousins, often about the same size. They’re cheaper to print than hardcovers but more expensive than mass market paperbacks.
The cost for consumers falls somewhere in the middle as well, at least when you're buying from one of the big names in publishing. Self-published books, on the other hand, can range in price depending on the author's preferences.
If you're an author and you want to release your book in paperback, this is the better-quality option. When working with a publisher, it's likely for the advanced reader copies (ARCs) they send out for your hardcover editions to be trade paperbacks as well. Don’t worry; it’s not all as complicated as it seems at first glance.
Trade paperback sizes vary, especially with all of the outlets for self-publishing available to ambitious writers. Createspace alone offers 15 different trade paperback book sizes, although only 12 of them are “industry standard” book sizes. The most common of these are 5.5” x 8.5” and 6” x 9”, which are also the sizes in which you'll find hardcover books. Different genres of books can have standards in size as well.
Generally speaking, a book is first released in hardcover format, with the paperback release scheduled for a few months after. Sometimes, books are released in hardcover or trade paperback at the same time. Other times, the book is only made available in softcover. It all depends on the publisher’s strategy, which the writer will be privy to prior to release. If you’re going the self-publishing route, you can come up with your own strategy. However, due to budgetary reasons, most writers who self-publish choose to only release trade paperbacks as well.
Mass Market Paperback
Now you know what a trade paperback is. So, what is a mass market paperback? And what exactly is the difference between paperback and mass market paperback?
First off, mass market paperbacks are smaller than trade paperbacks - somewhere around 4.25” x 6.87” in size. They are the compact books that are easier to handle and carry around, which makes them ideal for travel. While they can be available in bookstores, you can usually find them in the magazine aisle at grocery stores and on the racks at gas stations and airports. That’s where the name comes from – they are widely available to mass markets, so it’s easier for readers to get their hands on one. In contrast, trade paperbacks are only sold through trade retailers, like in bookstores (or in digital shops).
Mass market paperbacks travel well because of their small size. They have been referred to as pocket-editions because of their user-friendly format. The downside is that the font is smaller, which may make them harder to read. They also usually come out months after a hardcover release, but they’re also cheaper.
Few writers who self-publish choose the mass market size, preferring to stick to the many sizes offered in trade paperback books. That makes sense given budgetary constraints. As for genres, fiction and non-fiction novels are more likely to come in the traditional mass market size, while poetry and self-help books will be in trade size.
Why Are There So Many Size and Style Options?
To understand why there isn't just one type of book available, you need to consider people and their reading habits. Collectors will often go for the hardcover – it looks good on the shelves and there’s a better chance that it will stand the test of time. Often, collectors will also buy the mass market version of a book to actually read it, while the hardcover can remain in pristine condition.
When it comes to trade paperback book sizes, each genre has a different industry standard size that makes it look more like the type of book it is. For instance, self-help books are generally larger than average and boast a larger font. This allows each genre to sit more uniformly on bookstore shelves.
With print-on-demand and all of the self-publishing outlets, a lot of the standards go out of the window, especially with independent authors willing to experiment. This isn’t a big deal, since many of these writers sell their books online only or at art shows, instead of going through a traditional bookstore. This allows them to really get creative with the print versions of their books.
Difference between Paperback and Mass Market Paperback: Short Recap
Still fuzzy on how the two formats are different? Here are the cliff's notes:
- Looks: mass market paperbacks are smaller, printed on lower-quality paper, and boast a smaller font than trade paperbacks. Pages are more likely to yellow with age and the spine will likely crack more easily. So the main difference between paperback and mass market paperback is related to looks, but each version comes with pros and cons, as you’ll see below.
- Availability: trade paperbacks are only available in bookstores, libraries, and through trade book dealers (including online outlets). In contrast, mass market paperbacks can be found in groceries, airports, train stations, and so on. In other words, they are more widely available and more likely to reach a bigger audience. They may even appeal to people who don’t necessarily consider themselves as readers, but find that the title or the synopsis catches their eye.
- Features: mass market paperbacks are easier to carry around, which means that readers can bring them along when traveling, to the beach, by the pool, and so on. They’re also considerably cheaper.
- Content: there's a difference between paperback and mass market paperbacks book, but that's limited to the outside. The content of the book stays the same regardless of format. Of course, unless the mass market paperback is an abridged version, in which case that will be specified on the cover.
What Other Book Formats Are There?
Now that you know the difference between paperback and mass market paperback, you might want to dig deeper. While psychical books usually come solely in hardcover and softcover, readers can enjoy virtual books as well. You can purchase an e-book, which is an electronic version of a book, or an audiobook, which is the audio version. These can be more convenient, especially if reading is among the hobbies you are more passionate about. Let’s take them one at a time.
E-books are electronic versions of books, sold through digital retailers. While a lot of people define them as the digital version of a printed book, it’s important to note that some books exist solely in digital format. That’s the case with many self-published titles, since the cost of printing them is sometimes too high for indie authors to afford.
Digital books can be read on an electronic device – this includes computers, smartphones, tablets, and e-readers. You can purchase e-books from digital retailers or even borrow them from your library, since most institutions nowadays offer users access to a dedicated app. And with services like Kindle Unlimited, readers can have access to thousands of books for a monthly subscription price.
Audiobooks are recorded version of books. Basically, a narrator reads the story to you, which makes it more convenient to ‘read’ when doing things like driving, cleaning, walking, and so on. In other words, in situations when holding a book can be difficult, but you still want to keep your mind occupied.
Recorded books have been around for decades, but they’re enjoying quite the renaissance in the digital age. They tend to be on the pricey side, since production costs are higher, but you can get a subscription to services like Scribd to enjoy them at a more affordable price.
Knowing the difference between paperback and mass market paperback books can come in handy, especially when you’re ordering books online. If you’re browsing in a bookstore you can hold the book in your hands and figure out how big it is and how well you can read the font, but that becomes trickier when shopping via the Internet.
Either way, we hope this article helped you understand why books come in so many shapes and forms. At the end of the day, looks aren’t important. Regardless of the format you choose, you’re feeding your mind.