Thursday, February 07, 2008

A Look At Mass Market Paperbacks

Monday's Publishers Weekly (PW) had an article reporting that, despite softness in the mass market paperback (mmp) segment, publishers are not abandoning the format.

As a reminder, the mmp is the smaller paperback, usually about 4" x 7." It's the least expensive of the most common print mediums. Its cover is a heavy paper, but its pages are thin and cheap and yellow over time. These books are so cheap that, when bookstores return them to the publisher for credit, the covers are stripped off and sent to the publisher as proof of the return while the rest of the book is pulped.

The trade paperback is the larger paperback version, approximately 6" x 8." The paper inside a trade paperback is the same quality as that of a hardback book. Trade paperbacks and hardback books are both returned in their entirety to the publisher/distributor for credit.

Publishers Weekly interviewed Louise Burke, the publisher of Pocket Books. She said: “Mass market gets the most attention when people talk about a format not being what it used to be . . . But it still has a lot of value in getting readers in and then moving them up to hardcover. You have to look at the big picture.”

To help boost paperback sales, Levy Home Entertainment has initiated a variety of programs, including having an author autograph several thousand copies of a title before shipment and promoting specially priced titles at $4.99 to attract interest in a new author or an established author's backlist.

Another innovation is the $9.99 premium paperback, which according to the Write News has "higher quality paper, more white space both in the margins and between the lines of text, and a larger font size throughout." The premium was pioneered by Penguin in the spring of 2005 with the intent of appealing to aging baby boomers. Publishers have since discovered that the premium paperback also holds an appeal for younger readers who prefer hardbacks. The premiums haven't done well with romance readers because that segment of the market is "more price sensitive."

Speaking of romance, publishers agreed that "among the various mass market categories, romance continues to enjoy solid sales gains, helped by . . . a resurgence” in historical romance. "Another hot category cited by several houses was paranormal" although one publisher "warned against the danger of overpublishing in the category." (PW)

The article said the increased competition for limited shelf space is a reason for the mmp soft sales in 2007. Even so, publishers are not planning to abandon the genre. They see the low price of the mmp helps readers to discover new writers. Additionally, in an economy facing recession, mass market paperbacks offers an inexpensive alternative for entertainment.


Stephen Parrish said...

Mass market paperbacks are also "perfect bound," meaning the pages are glued individually to the cover, whereas trade paperbacks are usually signature bound.

Maya Reynolds said...

Stephen: You're absolutely right. The different binding also explains why it's so easy to lose a page from a mmp. If the glue process is not done correctly or if the glue deteriorates, single pages begin to fall out of the book--one at a time.

With both hardback and trade paper, the books are printed on large sheets containing several pages. These pages are folded into sections called "signatures." Each signature has a small mark on the right hand corner to help the binder keep them straight. Those marks are hidden by the sewing.

The signatures are sewn together, which is why when a hardback binding comes apart, you get several pages (signatures) that comes out at one time.