Monday, August 16, 2010

Remember When Books Were Short?

No, I don't mean short in length, I mean short in size! I know I've made small mentions about this before, but I've decided it's about time I take a stand and get some more opinions on it. I mean, I'd like to be published eventually, and I guess if anyone knows more about it than I, I'd love to be filled in.

Anyway, I'll present my own problems and thoughts, then I'll open it up for replies and other opinions.

So, a couple weeks ago I was walking through my local Powell's when I happened upon an amazing deal. A used copy of Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder. Now, if you've seen this at any used bookstores, or perhaps, if you Google it, you'll notice that it's been reprinted a few different times:
There are a few more covers out there (possibly from different countries), but these three were the ones I saw at the store.

Now, I'm not usually a cover snob (except, of course, in terms of damage), but of these three, I'd probably normally veer toward the third. However, the deal was specifically on the first: it was used (and still in great shape) for only $3.50! And with all the positive reviews I've been reading, I knew I couldn't pass it up.

Yet, I wavered. I put it back and walked away. It gnawed at me. I returned and picked it up again. I bit my lip, chewed my nails, shifted my weight back and forth, and stood there for a good five minutes before finally gripping it and taking it up to the counter.

Why? No, it wasn't low funds (I had a gift card). No, I didn't have doubts that I would enjoy it. No, I was sure I didn't already own it... It was the fact that it was printed a while ago (possibly a first printing) and the second and third books were not in the same format.

Okay, call it anal retentiveness, call it OCD, call it gooberocity (okay, maybe not), but I prefer my series to be all in the same format. If one book is Mass-Market, I'd like the rest of the books to match. If one book is Trade-Paperback I'd like the rest to be, too.

Given my preference, I'd take Mass-Market anytime (which is good, since that's what the first cover is). Firstly, I own more books in this format, so it 'fits' better on my shelves. Secondly, they cost less, so the deal-finder in me is naturally inclined to prefer them. Thirdly, they are more compact, thus are easier to carry around in a purse, or whatnot, without receiving damage.

Alright, I hear what you're probably saying... "So what's your problem? Just buy the Mass-Market edition and leave us alone."

Well, I would...except, have you seen bookstores recently? Have you looked at the YA section? I swear, 95% of the books there are Trade-Paper! And I have no idea why!

Is it the cover? Do these new designs require more space, ie larger covers? Is it simply the old adage that bigger is better? Is this a buying trend? Are the publishing companies money-hungry? Are bookstores requesting the larger printings because they're easier to see on the shelves?

Okay, hang on a second. Before you paint me as conspiratorial, let me give you a better illustration:
I happen to own two copies of Tamora Pierce's Trickster's Choice. Since she's a well-known and Bestselling Author, her books are now being released first in hardcover. This hardcover was in September 2003 and sells for $17.95.

Since I generally abstain from hardcover buying, I held out and got the Trade-Paperback on the left. It was released a year later, in September 2004, and sells for $8.95.

The copy on the right is the Mass-Market Paperback. It was released 4 years later, in 2008 by a subsidiary of the original publishing company and sells for $6.99. I chose to buy this version because I own all her other books in this format, and, as I explained before, I like things to match.

Do you see any difference between the two? Okay, there's a little more text on the smaller version ("The New York Times Bestselling Author"), but really there's absolutely no difference!

Let's take a look at the backs:

I know it's a bit small...but if you can read both descriptions...they're completely identical. The only extra text on the Trade-Paper are the acclaims, which have been included inside the Mass-Market.

Other differences include the barcode size (larger on the Mass-Market), the mirror of the cover image (ghosted background on the Trade-Paper, cut-out and bordered on the Mass-Market), and font colors (green highlights on the Mass-Market).

Inside, the books have the exact same page numbers (422). The maps are the same, and both even have the same preview of the sequel book. The Trade-Paper font is, of course, larger than the Mass-Market, but the smaller size isn't difficult to read. Especially for teenagers who, you would think, still have fairly healthy eyes/don't squint at small fonts.

So, which of these do you think I'm keeping? And which do you think you'd see on the shelves at bookstores?

Here's what I think might be going on... Bookstores/Publishing Companies probably prefer* the Trade-Papers for a few reasons:

  1. They are essentially hardcovers re-bound in paperback, so are easier to continue printing.**
  2. Larger books fill the shelves and are more eye-catching than smaller (especially for younger audiences).
  3. It is perfectly reasonable to charge a higher price for a larger product (since material costs are higher***).
  4. Some people may prefer this format.
  5. Those who prefer the Mass-Markets might concede during the long wait.
  6. Offering 3 separate formats will make more money from book fans/collectors.
Meanwhile, I prefer Mass-Markets for a few other reasons:
  1. They are normally skinnier and so I can fit more on a shelf.
  2. They are normally a uniform height**** and so allow for easy double-stacking in my bookcases.
  3. They are compact and easily transportable in my purse or bag.
  4. They are firmer and tend to resist flopping open and getting bent.
  5. They cost less and so I can buy more.
As far as releasing Mass-Markets later than Trade-Papers, I don't mind a little bit of a wait...so long as I'm sure it will be released eventually. There are a few books I'd love to own, but if I buy them in Trade-Paper and then a month later (or even a year...or four) they're released in Mass-Market, I've just wasted money. But there's no way to know when or IF they're planning on Mass-Marketing a book...

So... What do you think? Do you have a preference one way or the other, or do you just buy whatever's available? Do you think this trend is here to stay, or will they eventually make the transition back to the smaller size? Should publishing trends change, or am I the one who should change?



*This is purely my own speculation—I don't have hard facts.
**I know that some 'Trade-Paper' books are merely softbound versions of hardcovers, but not all. I also do not know the specifics of printing costs. It merely seems logical that the less changes that have to be made, the less cost.
***Again, I do not know printing costs, so I don't actually know that it costs more to produce a Trade-Paper than a Mass-Market. Again, it seems logical that more paper and more ink per-book would cost more. Then again, perhaps they simply print less Trade-Papers than Mass-Markets so the ink/paper costs are equal...
****I currently own 20 Trade-Paperbacks and they come in 5 different heights...