Book sizes

While shelving books this evening, I was wondering why all standard paperbacks are the same height and width with their only variation being thickness. Hardcovers and trade paperbacks all vary widely in their dimensions. So why did paperbacks standardize on one set of dimensions, or alternately, why haven’t hardcovers done the same?

Mass market paperbacks (that’s their technical name in the publishing business) were initially sized to fit into wire racks of a specific size. (In drugs stores and Waldenbooks they often still are.) Since they are aimed at the “mass market,” their outstanding quality has to be a consistent size to market them in the same manner without regard to artistic considerations.

Hard cover books are looked on as objects of art. The shape, size, binding, and type fonts are all “designed” to create an impression. (It can be a bad design and an impression of a cheap publisher, but that is the breaks of the game.)

Trade (or quality) paperbacks are often simply the hardcover books with thin cardboard substituted for the thicker covers and heavier binding of the hardcover. (This is not an absolute rule, of course.) Since they are often sold from the same shelves as the hardcover books, and they aspire to be a “quality” product without the weight and cost of hard covers, they are not under the same size restrictions that the mass markets are.


The Straight Dope books all fall under Tom’s last category, right? I’ve never seen or heard of any hardcover copies. (Now there’s an idea - a special edition set of all the SD books hand-tooled in rich Corinthian leather, or Naugahyde ™ for you PETA activists).

Shame on you Nick. Don’t you know Corinthians have been hunted almost to extinction?

Oh sure, start killing Naugahydes just to bind books.

Rich Barr
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