In the US we have three basic formats for printed books: 1. Hardcover; 2. Trade paperback; and, 3. Mass-market paperback. This article is concerned with explaining the differences between the two types of paperbacks. As a self-publisher you need to be familiar with and understand the similarities and differences.
Mass-Market Paperback Books
A mass-market paperback is a small, usually non-illustrated, and less-expensive bookbinding format. They are frequently released after the hardcover edition, and often sold in non-traditional bookselling locations such as airports, newsstands, drug stores, and supermarkets, etc., as well as in traditional bookstores. Many titles, most commonly fiction, are issued as first editions in mass-market paperback format and never receive a hardcover printing. This is particularly true for books by new authors. The books that are in the non-traditional locations are generally within the periodical-distribution industry. These books are distributed by the same companies that are placing magazines in these locations. Conversely, the trade paperbacks are distributed by book wholesalers and distributors – or trade channels – hence the name “trade paperback”.
Mass-market paperbacks are also distinguished from hardcover and trade by the different business practices that publishers and booksellers apply to them. Mass-markets are “strippable”. This means that bookstores can rip off the front cover and return just that for full credit. They are supposed to destroy the rest of the book. Some publishers require that booksellers return the cover and the first several pages.
The minority of self-publishers, which are those that write and publish fiction, will publish mass-market paperbacks. These will typically be 4” x 7”. The retail cover price is typically lower than the trade paperback. There are also “large-trim” mass-market paperbacks that are the same size as the standard trade paperback.
Trade Paperback Books
Trade paperbacks have thicker paper covers, and paper similar to hardcovers. Many times they are about the same size as the hardcover books, but slightly smaller because the binding is done differently, and without the added thickness of the covers. There are also some trade paperbacks that look exactly like mass-market paperbacks, but with better quality paper and covers. One way that you will know if they are trade paperbacks is that the copyright page and the back cover will have a notice that they are not strippable.
The majority of self-publishers, which are those that write and publish non-fiction, will publish trade paperbacks. These will typically be 5.5” x 8.5” or 6” x 9”, and the less common 8.5” x 11”. Children’s picture books are typically 8” x 10”. The retail cover price is generally higher than the mass-market books, and lower than the hardcover editions.
An interesting recent feature of trade paperbacks is the “French-flap”. It is actually an extension of the front and back cover with a section that is folded over onto itself, just like the paper wraps that are typically found on hardcover books. It is meant to make the trade paperback appear more like a hardcover edition – but at a lower cover price. Using foil and embossing is also found on some trade paperback covers – just like the paper wraps on the hardcovers. These options are not typically available from the print-on-demand printers. And these features are generally not found on mass-market paperback books.
A Quick Note About Paperback Book Formats in the UK
“A Format” is typically 110mm x 178mm (4.33″ x 7.01″), similar to the US’s standard mass-market paperback;
“B Format” is typically 130mm x 198mm (5.12″ x 7.80″), similar to the US’s large mass-market paperback, or small trade paperback;
“C Format” is typically 135mm x 216mm (5.32″ x 8.51″), similar to the US’s standard trade paperback.