Considering the Economics of Format

May 23rd, 2005 · 2 Comments
by Booksquare

We’ve been saving this article on hardcovers versus paperbacks for a rainy day. It’s never going to rain again, so we’re pretending a rather wimpy June Gloom is close enough for government work. It’s a roundtable (of sorts) discussion about the pros and cons of the various formats. We advise reading all the words — there are a lot, but we believe worth it. Because we’re feeling lazy this morning, we will recap some highlights:

  1. Consumers don’t really grasp the intricacies of the publishing formats. They tend to consider little stuff like price. Books compete for scarce entertainment dollars.
  2. Hardcovers have a perceived cachet. Still not usefull unless the consumer gets that. Again, consumers seem to factor price above cachet.
  3. Trade paperbacks are classier than regular paperbacks. Also more expensive. In some circles, they make a handy, less pricey substitute for hardcover.
  4. Hardcovers have a limited after-market. We’re not sure what this means.

The article touched on the notion that hardcovers yield higher margins (not much more expensive to produce, yet consumers pay more; possibly discounts factor in), but doesn’t go in-depth there. We can’t always get everything we want. We suspect that many books released in hardcover and considered failures would be considered successes if released first in paperback. But we live in a fantasy world. It’s safe there.

Because we love good quotes, a favorite comment:

ardbacks are seen as a luxury by most customers, and they are clearly frustrated when the book with the buzz is not available in paper. They come in excited because they have heard an interview, and ask if it’s in paper, not realizing of course that the reason they’ve heard about it is because it’s new. Many times a customer comes in about a “buzz” book and mention that it’s a bonus that it’s in paper.

File Under: Books/Mags/Blogs

2 responses so far ↓

  • Susan Gable // May 24, 2005 at 5:40 am

    Let’s not forget the new “up-back,” which one publisher rep said at a recent meeting is not a lower-priced trade pb but rather an up-scale mmpb or something like that.

    In other words, it’s not a cheap version of the trade pb, it’s a more expensive version of the mmpb.

    She also said that not one of their trial group readers flinched at the higher price. I think that works for the reader who reads one or two books a month, but when it comes to our voracious readers, they WILL flinch at the price.

    Personally, I rarely buy hardcovers. And when I do, I get them off the remainder racks or, in one case, I went to Sam’s to get it because I knew I could buy it cheapest there. I can’t afford hardcovers. And actually, I don’t really like hardcovers. I grew up immersed in paperbacks. (s)

  • Booksquare // May 24, 2005 at 8:28 am

    I buy all sizes, but prefer paperbacks. I am becoming increasingly convinced that in today’s market, the hardcover is more of a vanity/marketing tool, sort of like the motion picture release is the extended trailer for the DVD. However, the economics of publishing are very different from the economics of movies.

    As always, I’m going to suggest something radical: if the business model isn’t working the way it used to, perhaps it’s time to revisit the assumptions. They really should pay me for all this brilliant advice, huh?