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‘Paperback or Hardback?’: The Book Format Dilemma

BY RON SUPAN

When I started collecting books years ago, I didn’t care which format they were in as long as I enjoyed the story. But after a while, I got irritated staring at my disorganized shelves, so I decided to buy only hardcovers or hardbacks. And, boy, did those sturdy, elegant spines look neat on my bookshelf. I could have gone on with collecting hardbacks forever, if not for a couple of issues I had with them.

1. Price

First of all, they are pricey, especially those in the high/epic fantasy genre, which is where I find my usual reads.

Most books, particularly bestsellers, are first published as hardcovers. I’m one of those who can afford to buy a hardback only once a month, but I’ll be broke if I do it monthly. I try to put aside money for a book every payroll so that by my second pay I can buy ONE book. Question is, can I truly afford it? To be honest, barely. What about my personal savings? Nada, which is frustrating, particularly when unexpected expenses pop up.

2. Size

I eventually realized that hardbacks aren’t suited for comfortable reading because they are simply too large with their standard size dimension of 9.5 x 6.5 inches. Plus, they’re neither flexible nor handy. Not to mention their slippery dust jackets, when I leave them on, are a mere hindrance while reading. They also weigh a lot, which means I can only carry few copies with me when I travel. (Whew, that’s a lot of cons.)

So I guess, with my lifestyle, hardbacks are mostly good for display, but THEN AGAIN, even that can be annoying. I realized they can come in different dimensions, with some hardbacks published in 8.5 x 5.5 inches, and others up to 10 x 6.5 inches or whatever size special editions are published in. Unlevelled book tops can really bring out the OC in me and it gets, again, frustrating. (However, I can tolerate books in leather bound editions, like the classics, which I do love to collect.)

So I turned my attention to paperbacks.

bookbed book format paperbacks hardbacks

Image from Hungry Hyaena

There are three major formats for paperbacks: large print, trade and mass market. (But take note: researching book sizes will not help in choosing which one suits you best until you hold the book yourself.)

Large print paperbacks

These are basically have the same dimensions as standard hardbacks and are usually published within few months after hardbacks. The only difference is that they are paperbacks. Despite having the same paper quality as their hardbacks counterparts, large print paperbacks are still too big for me. Choosing between a large print paperback and a hardback, I’ll choose the hardback any day since their prices don’t differ much.

Mass market paperbacks

These formats have two sizes I’m aware of: those in standard format of 6.8 x 4.2 inches and those in 7.5 x 4.2 inches.

Honestly, I never had the heart for mass markets because I’m a big guy with big hands so reading in MMPB never suits me. They also look very fragile, with their poor paper quality. I feel like I might tear them apart every time I turn a page.

MMPBs are also published last, some a year or more after the hardbacks, depending on market demands. These are the cheapest format available, costing at least around a quarter of their hardbacks’ price, but I find it’s still better not to sacrifice quality just to save a few bucks.

Trade paperbacks

These are medium prints and also have two size dimensions: the UK trade paperback in standard b-format dimensions of 7.8 x 5.2 inches, and the US trade paperback in 8.2 x 5.5 inches. Now these are the formats I find myself comfortable with, with which I can read for hours without getting numb from exhaustion due to its weight.

Aside from size, the other difference of UK PBs from US ones is that the former have harder spine bindings and paper quality. I know some readers love to see spine creases as proof that the book has been read but me? I don’t. If I wanted proof that my books have been read, I’d rather it showed through their curved spines. So if you hate broken spines like me, I suggest practicing the art of avoiding creases while reading. This is easier with harder paper quality because their covers won’t be easily folded. US PBs have softer bindings, so avoiding creases is easy enough; you can even open an 800-page book 180 degrees without breaking the spine.

Last, US editions are in American English while, of course, UK editions are in British English, which I honestly can’t be bothered. I would choose both but my OCD just won’t allow it because of their size difference, so I stick with UK b-formats. Add to that, I find their cover designs more artistic than their US counterparts, and these medium-sized paperbacks range from one third up to half the price of their hardbacks, which is just and fair for their quality and is affordable to most readers.

bookbed book format ebooks

Image from Tyler Shores

As for ebooks, I read them but not that often. I only read ebooks when I find a new title interesting and there is no other format available, or when it is sent to me in exchange for a review (because for some reason, other debut authors prefer to publish their books in this format first).

***

If you work in a company that bargains you with a low salary, have a government that makes you poorer with unjustly fined income taxes, and are surrounded by bookstores that rip you off with high prices, then we’re on the same page. I suggest you buy only those you can afford without sacrificing your needs and obligations.

As for me, I still buy hardbacks especially when I find a cheap copy that’s still in good condition. That’s my way of preserving good books. ☁

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