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Cover of Pan imprint, Enemy Coast Ahead (1950s), by Guy Gibson

Paperback, softback, or softcover describe and refer to a book by the nature of its binding. The covers of such books are usually made of paper or paperboard, and are usually held together with glue rather than stitches or staples.

Inexpensive books bound in paper have existed since at least the 19th century and exist in a number of formats that have specific names, such as pamphlets, yellowbacks, dime novels, and airport novels. [1] Most paperbacks are either "mass-market paperbacks" or "trade paperbacks".



Paperback editions of books are issued when a company decides to release a book in a low-cost format. The lack of a hard cover, stitched bindings, and frequently the use of cheaper paper, contribute to the inherent low cost of paperbacks, especially when compared to the average cost of hardcovers.

Paperbacks can be the preferred medium when a book is not expected to be a major seller, or in other situations where the publisher wishes to release a book without putting forth a large investment. Examples include many novels, and new editions or reprintings of older books. Publishers must balance the larger profit to be made by selling few hardcovers with a great profit per unit, against the potentially greater profit to be made by selling many paperbacks with a small profit per unit. Many modern books, especially genre fiction, are first editions in paperback. Only the best-selling books, such as 2003's The Da Vinci Code, can maintain sales in hardcover sufficiently to delay a paperback edition for longer than a year.


The 20th century mass-market paperback format was pioneered by German publisher Albatross Books in 1931 but the experiment was cut short. In England Penguin Books adopted many of Albatross's innovations, for instance the conspicuous logo and the color-coded covers for different genres, beginning in 1935, and was an immediate financial success. British publisher Allen Lane launched the Penguin imprint in 1935, with 10 reprint titles; this started the paperback revolution in the English-language book market. Number one on the Penguin list of 1935 editions was André Maurois's Ariel.

Allen Lane intended to produce cheap books. He bought paperback rights from publishers, ordered huge print runs (e.g., 20,000 copies) to keep unit prices low, and looked to non-traditional book-selling retail locations. Booksellers were initially reluctant to buy his books. But Woolworths placed a large order on the books, and the books sold extremely well. After this initial success, booksellers were no longer reluctant to stock paperbacks. The word "Penguin" became closely associated with the word "paperback".

Robert de Graaf, in 1939, issued a similar line in the USA, partnering with Simon & Schuster to found the Pocket Books imprint. The term "pocket book" became synonymous with paperback in English-speaking North America. In Québec, the term "livre de poche" was used, and continues to be used today. De Graaf, like Lane, negotiated paperback rights from other publishers, and produced many runs. His practices contrasted with those of Lane in his adoption of illustrated covers, aimed at the North American market. In order to reach an even broader market than Lane had, he went the mass market route, through distribution networks of newspapers and magazines, which had a lengthy history of being aimed (in format and distribution) at mass audiences. This was the beginning of mass market paperbacks.

Because of its number-one position in what became a very long list of pocket editions, James Hilton's Lost Horizon is often cited as the first American paperback book, which is not correct. The first mass-market, pocket-sized, paperback book printed in America was an edition of Pearl Buck's The Good Earth, produced by Pocket Books as a proof-of-concept in late 1938, sold in New York City, and now very collectible.

A number of companies entered the paperback publishing field in the United States in the years after Pocket Books' inception, including Ace, Dell, Bantam, Avon, and dozens of other smaller publishers. At first, paperbacks consisted entirely of reprints, but publishers soon found it economic to publish original works. Genre categories began to emerge, and mass market book covers reflected those categories. Mass market paperbacks had an impact on slick magazines (slicks) and pulp magazines. The market for cheap magazines diminished when buyers went to cheap books instead—one factor in this was that the content included in both formats crossed over—authors also found themselves abandoning magazines, and writing for the paperback market. Many pulp magazine cover artists were hired by paperback publishers to entice readers with their exciting artwork. Many well-known authors were published in paperback, including Arthur Miller and John Steinbeck, and some, like Dashiell Hammett, were published as paperback originals.

World War II brought both new technology and a wide readership of men and women now in the military or employed as shift workers; paperbacks were cheap, readily available, and easily carried. Furthermore, people found that restrictions on travel brought them more time to read more paperbacks. Four-color printing and lamination developed for military maps made the paperback cover eye catching and kept ink from running as people would examine the cover of the book. A revolving metal rack was designed to display a wide variety of paperbacks in a small space that found its way into drugstores, dimestores, and markets.

US paperbacks quickly entered the Canadian market, because the newspaper and magazine distribution network was controlled by US companies. Canadian mass-market paperback initiatives in the 1940s included White Circle Books, a subsidiary of Collins (UK); it was fairly successful but was soon outstripped by the success of Harlequin which began in 1949 and, after a few years of publishing fragile editions of undistinguished novels, focused on the romance genre and became one of the world's largest publishers.

McClelland and Stewart entered the Canadian mass market book trade in the early 1960s, with its "Canadian best seller library" series (at a time when Canadian literary culture was beginning to be popularized, and a call for a Canadian author identity was discussed by the Canadian masses). See Egg Head or Quality Paperbacks for McClelland and Stewart's paperback line.


Paperbacks include inexpensive "mass market paperbacks", in the standard "pocketbook" format generally printed on inexpensive paper, which will discolor and disintegrate over a period of decades, and more expensive "trade paperbacks" in larger formats printed on quality paper, sometimes acid-free paper.

"A Format" paperbacks are 110mm x 178mm (4.33" x 7.01") in size, "B Format" paperbacks are 130mm x 198mm (5.12" x 7.8"), while "C Format" (trade paperbacks) are 135mm x 216mm (5.32" x 8.51").[2]

Mass market paperback, Life, the Universe and Everything, by Douglas Adams (1982).

Mass market paperbacks are also more typically bound thwart-grain (i.e. with the grain of the paper running breadthwise rather than widthwise). This results in a book which does not lie open unless the spine is creased. Trade paperbacks, on the other hand, are more often bound with the paper grain running widthwise, which results in a book that lies open much more easily.


Mass market paperback

A mass market paperback (MMP or MMPB) is a small, usually non-illustrated, and inexpensive bookbinding format. They are commonly released after the hardback edition, and often sold in non-traditional bookselling locations such as airports, drug stores, and supermarkets, as well as in traditional bookstores. Many titles, especially in the area of genre fiction, are first editions in paperback and never receive a hardcover printing. This is particularly true of first novels by new authors.[3]

Mass market paperbacks are distinguished from hardbacks by the different business practices that publishers and booksellers apply to them. When booksellers note that books have been in stock a while and have not sold, they may return them to the publisher for a refund or credit on future orders. However, in the case of mass market paperbacks, this "return" usually means stripping the front cover, returning that for credit, and pulping the book itself. The mass market paperbacks sold in airport newsstands have given rise to the vaguely defined literary genre of the "airport novel", bought by travellers to escape the hours of sitting and waiting.

Trade paperback

Penguin Classics paperback editions

A trade paperback (TPB), sometimes referred to as a trade paper edition, is a standard-sized or large-sized paperback book. If it is a softcover edition of a previous hardcover edition, and, if published by the same publishing house as the hardcover, the text pages are normally identical to the text pages in the hardcover edition, and the book is usually the same size as the hardcover edition. The only difference is the soft binding; the quality of the paper is usually higher than that of a mass market paperback.

Trade paperbacks are typically priced less than hardcover books and higher than mass market paperbacks. Virtually all advance copies sent for promotional purposes are issued in trade paperback format.

Trade paperback comics

In the medium of comic books, trade paperbacks are used to reprint several issues of a comic series in one volume, usually an important storyline or the entire series itself, and the name "trade paperback" has become synonymous with a collection of reprinted material. Graphic novels are also sometimes found in trade paperback form. Publishers sometimes release popular collections first in a hardback form, followed by a trade paperback months later. Books that have done this include Marvel Comics' Secret War and DC Comics' Crisis on Infinite Earths amongst many others. Comic book trade paperbacks are listed at Millarworld's trade paperback list[4] which has not been updated since March of 2008.

Major paperback publishers

Notes and references

  1. ^ See, for example, the Tauchnitz editions.
  2. ^ Wilson-Fletcher, Honor (2001-08-11). "Why Size Matters". The Guardian.,,534924,00.html. Retrieved 2006-11-16. 
  3. ^ cite web|last=Flint|first=Eric|note=Oct 2007 issue of JBU:|url=|accessdate=2007-10-17|title=Column: Salvos Against Big Brother; article: 'The Economics of Writing'|editor=Jim Baen's Universe (e-zine) Eric Flint (ed.)|quote=Mother of Demons was published in September of 1997, and it was only published in a mass market paperback edition, as was the standard practice at the time for first novels.}}
  4. ^ Trade Paperback List
  • Hancer, Kevin. (1990) Hancer's Price Guide to Paperback Books, Third Edition, Radnor, Pennsylvania: Wallace-Homestead Book Company. ISBN 0-87069-536-3
  • Canja, Jeff. (2002) Collectible Paperback Books, Second Edition, East Lansing, MI: Glenmoor Publishing. ISBN 0-96736-395-0

See also

External links


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