In the United States, we have three basic formats for printed books: 1. Hardcover; 2. Commercial paperback; and, 3. Consumer paperback. This article aims to explain the differences between the two types of paperbacks. As a self-publisher, you need to know and understand the similarities and differences.
A consumer paperback is a smaller binding format that is usually unillustrated and less expensive. They are frequently published after the hardcover edition and often sold at non-traditional book-selling venues such as airports, newsstands, pharmacies and supermarkets, etc., as well as traditional bookstores. Many titles, most often fiction, are released as first editions in consumer paperback format and never receive hardcover printing. This is especially true for books by new authors. Books in non-traditional locations generally belong to the periodical distribution industry. These books are distributed by the same companies that put magazines in these places. Conversely, commercial paperbacks are distributed by book wholesalers and distributors – or commercial channels – hence the name “commercial paperback”.
Consumer paperbacks are also distinguished from hardcover and trade books by the different business practices that publishers and booksellers apply to them. Mass markets are “striable”. This means booksellers can tear off the cover and return it for full credit. They are supposed to destroy the rest of the book. Some publishers require booksellers to return the cover and front pages.
The minority of self-publishers, who are those who write and publish fiction, will publish mainstream paperbacks. These will typically be 4″ x 7″. Retail price is usually lower than paperback. There are also mass market “large format” paperbacks which are the same size as the standard trade paperback.
Trade in paperbacks
Trade paperbacks have thicker paper covers and paper similar to hardcovers. Often they are about the same size as hardcover books, but slightly smaller because the binding is done differently and without the extra thickness of covers. There are also commercial paperbacks that look exactly like consumer paperbacks, but with higher quality paper and covers. One way to tell if they are trade paperbacks is that the copyright page and back cover will have a notice that they are not tear-off.
The majority of self-publishers, that is, those who write and publish non-fiction, will publish trade paperbacks. These will usually be 5.5″ x 8.5″ or 6″ x 9″, and the less common 8.5″ x 11″. Children’s picture books are usually 8″ x 10″. The retail price is usually higher than mainstream books and lower than hardcover editions.
An interesting recent feature of trade paperbacks is the “French flap”. It’s actually an extension of the front and back cover with a section that’s folded back on itself, much like the paper envelopes typically found on hardcover books. It’s intended to make the trade paperback appear like a hardcover edition – but at a lower cover price. The use of foil and embossing is also found on some paperback covers – as are paper wrappers on hardcovers. These options are generally not available on print-on-demand printers. And those features aren’t usually found on mainstream paperbacks.
A Quick Note on UK Paperback Formats
“Size A” is usually 110 mm x 178 mm (4.33? x 7.01?), similar to the standard American paperback;
“B size” is usually 130mm x 198mm (5.12? x 7.80?), similar to the American Ledger or Small Trade Paperback;
The “C size” is usually 135mm x 216mm (5.32? x 8.51?), similar to the standard American paperback.