Jan. 6th, 2014

alfvaen: floatyhead (Default)
I'm beginning to hate trade paperbacks.

I mean, I've been buying and reading books for a lot of years now, and the vast majority of those books have always been mass-market paperbacks.  The little ones, you know, the ones that can fit in your pocket, tend to be the cheapest, and can fit in two rows on most bookshelves.  Plus they all tend, with some variation, to be pretty much the same size.  A lot of books, particularly SF & fantasy books, only, or principally, came out in that format.  In the days when I bought most of my books second-hand, that was usually all I looked at, and even now is the principal format for genre books, though that may be changing.  For non-fiction, young adult, and mainstream, they're not quite as dominant, but that's not what I'm talking about here.

Hardcovers are the high-end books, the ones you can't wait for, extra-sturdy and extra-heavy.  For fiction, at least, there are very few authors that we'll shell out for here.  Otherwise, we'll wait a year, or however long it takes for the mass-market paperback release, or get it from the library.

Except that these days, for some books, the mass-market paperback release never comes.  Instead, the trade paperback comes out.  Not as sturdy as the hardcover, and not as compact as the mass-markets, they're like the worst of both worlds.  They're priced kind of in the middle, sometimes only a little more than a mass-market paperback, but sometimes twice as much, or even more.

Now, as I understand it, the advantage of trade paperbacks over mass-market paperbacks, from the publisher's perspective, is an economical one.  Mass-market paperbacks, to be profitable, have to be done in print runs of a certain size, where trade paperbacks can be profitable in smaller print runs.  I'm not clear on whether this is mostly because of the higher price, or something about the size or format or binding which makes them cheaper to print, but that's the information that I have in my brain.

I don't have any issues with small presses using them--I know too many people who have been published by them, or work for them.  Their margins are smaller, their print runs are smaller, so I don't blame them for it.  I'm willing to support them, by paying the extra money if the book I want is from a small press.  Not that, if there happened to be a small-press trade-paperback edition and a large-press mass-market paperback edition of the same book I will shell out for the trade in that case.  But how often does that happen?

No, my issue is with the authors whose books now, somehow, never seem to make it to mass-market.  In some cases I supposes it's the same sort of thing--the author isn't selling well enough for a mass-market printing of their books to profitable, so they elect to do a trade printing instead.  I remember seeing this some years ago for a few new authors, ones whose first book was coming out from a major publisher in hardcover, and then in trade paperback.  Those ones I remember being mostly standalones--Yves Meynard's The Book of Knights and Raphael Carter's The Fortunate Fall, for instance--so maybe this was just a last-ditch attempt to be able to publish standalone books from new authors, instead of always signing them up for a trilogy and hoping it sticks.

It's got to be worse for established authors--someone I've been used to buying in mass-market, often someone who's got a solid (but perhaps small) fanbase, or even a lot of critical acclaim, which is sort of the same thing if most of your fans are critics (or most critics are fans).  I've seen it happen to Steven Brust, and I eventually gave in and started buying him that way.  Stephen R. Donaldson's "Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant" have been stuck in trade paperback for years, so I assume something like that happened to him; I still haven't shelled out for those ones.  (I tend to like Donaldson's work, but the Covenant series generally less so.)  For the more critically acclaimed, China Miéville, after a couple of mass-markets, has seemed to be trade-paperback only, and I'm still peeved that Connie Willis's award-winning Blackout/All Clear are still in trade paperback as well.  Often I will just read them from the library, and then never buy them at all.  (Unless I decide it was good enough to shell out for, like Scott Lynch's The Lies of Locke Lamora.)

Sometimes books that are in trade paperback have reasonably-priced ebooks (which is how I've started buying Jasper Fforde's Tuesday Next books), but with some of them, like the Donaldsons, they're still priced at more than a mass-market paperback, which still seems like an outrageous amount to pay for an ebook.  So that's not really a viable choice either.

I get that the publishing industry is going through a tough time.  They can't afford to pay authors very much, particularly if their first mass-market trilogy didn't do well.  But, as a reader and consumer, I still hate it when they choose the trade-paperback solution.

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