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We've had babies

Look, dear, we've had babies!
(Trade at top, mass market at bottom)
I'm delighted to say that the paperback versions of The Universe Inside You have arrived and now are on sale. I thought it might be a good opportunity to consider the different book publishing formats and how they are to be approached in an ebook world.

It can be quite confusing as there are two distinct types of paperback - trade and mass market. In this instance, Universe was first published as a trade paperback. This is a somewhat larger format and typically has a slightly more robust cover, often with opening flaps on the edges.

Universe has now come out as a mass market paperback. This is smaller (more so than is obvious in the picture - the mass market paperback is noticeably smaller when handled for real) and cheaper - in this case £8.99 as against £12.99 full price.

The trade paperback is an alternative to a hardback, which is usually priced higher still. There seem to be two reasons for producing these more expensive versions. Hardbacks/trade paperbacks are, for some reason, more likely to be reviewed, and they make more imposing presents. Sales of these, particularly hardbacks, seem to be holding up in the face of ebook competition.

The mass market (wishful thinking as a term in many cases) paperback is, of course, the cheap and cheerful format. But as it's usually undercut by the ebook, should there be one, it has been suffering sales in comparison with its big brothers.

With ebooks produced in parallel with the paper version being pretty much the norm, will publishers keep going with the two/three tier approach? I really don't know. Traditionally if there was only one tier it would either be just a hardback (because it didn't sell enough to go into paperback) or just a mass market paperback (as it wasn't the sort of book that would treasured/given as a gift). Now, maybe, we will see more trade paperback only issues as a kind of comprise to accompany the ebook. Having said that, the production costs of hardbacks aren't hugely greater than paperbacks (far less than the price point suggests) so we may see more hardback only pbooks at trade paperback prices.

As for the ebooks, the format decision isn't about size or cover, but which platforms to go for. Kindle seems a no-brainer. The best of my ebook publishers, Icon, also goes for iTunes, Nook and Kobo. But is it worth also going for the apparently drooping Sony ereader? Should publishers bother with any other formats? It's a tricky one. But what remains sure is that books will not settle into a single format that is set in stone. They will continue to mutate to match our reading habits.

There have been triumphant reports from conservatives suggesting that ebook sales are tapering off. This is rubbish. But equally silly are the predictions we have been seeing for about 10 years of the demise of the printed book. There may be tweaking, but both formats have a long way to go yet.


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