Mass market vs trade paperback size

I understand the distinction between mass market and trade paperbacks. But why are mass market books in such a uniform size, when trade paperbacks tend to be different sizes? I rarely buy mass market paperbacks, because I think I unconsciously think that they are not as good.

They also don’t look as good on a shelf; they take up too much horizontal space and not enough vertical space, and consequently, I have hundreds of trade paperbacks, but only about five mass market sized paperbacks.

So, what’s with the crappy size on mass market paperbacks?

I think they’re shaped the way they are so they can fit in your pocket, aren’t they? I’m pretty sure they used to be called “pocket books” for just that reason.

> So, what’s with the crappy size on mass market paperbacks?

Small and cheap, my friend. That’s why they’re printed on newsprint, rather than paper that will still be unyellowed in 5 years.

<i>Small and cheap, my friend.</i>

I understand that they’re cheap… but why such a bulky thickness? Is it really more economical to make smaller pages, at the cost of having more pages? That is, is a 1.5 inch mass market paperback (more, smaller pages) really cheaper to print than a 1 inch trade paperback (fewer, bigger pages)?

Actually, I just got this information in my mass communications class.

The books are sized this way because they fit in racks that you’d find in places like drugstores, airports, and other places where you’d want to buy a book, but where the retailer may not want to expend a lot of shelf space. True, thicker books mean less in a rack (or on a shelf), but the fact that they fit on the rack in the first place means fewer headaches for the retailer.


A trade paperback can be any size (yes, even the size of a mass market paperback).

A trade paperback is one where a bookstore must return the entire book for store credit (all books are 100% returnable). With a mass market paperback, the bookstore tears off the cover (in the old days; it’s probably the ISBN code nowadays) and returns that for credit (the rest of the book is thrown away).

That’s the differentiation in the industry. Now, since trade paperbacks are treated like hardcovers as far as returns are concerned, they are usually the same size as a hardcover. Note that hardcovers come in a variety of sizes, too, and trade paperbacks are usually shelved with hardcovers in bookstores (they also are generally not sold in racks).

Mass market paperbacks used to be called pocket books, partly because they would presumably fit in a pocket, and mostly because the first major firm to introduce them in the U.S. was - Pocket Books (1939).

Yes, mass market paperbacks are really, really cheap to make. They first sold for 25 cents no matter who made them. The author got one penny in royalties for each copy sold. A million-selling book earned an author $10,000. Good thing life was a lot cheaper in those days.

To cut costs - and to keep the flimsy bindings from cracking - longer books were often abridged. Finally, in the early 1950s, extra-length editions at 35 cents or even 50 cents were introduced to accommodate full-length texts.

Mass market remained the main format for paperbacks well into the 1970s and even 1980s. This was great because you could get virtually every book that came out in hardcover for very little money.

But mass market paperbacks were for the most part not sold in regular bookstores, and were not processed via the same networks as hardbacks. You have to remember that in those days there were hardly any chain bookstores. Cities had a few “good” bookstores, with selections that were extremely limited by today’s standards. Mass market paperbacks instead were moved by local distributors in each city to hundreds of drugstores, newsstands, and similar establishments.

Two things happened, more or less simultaneously: the small outlets for paperbacks realized that they weren’t getting much profit on paperbacks and chain bookstores began springing up all over the country.

(Some national distributor that fed the local ones may also have gone out of business. This acertainly happened in the world of comics, which along with the low profit margins is why comics moved out of drugstores and into specialty stores.)

The reduced number of locations for mass market books meant that prices had to go up to retain the same level of profit. The 50 cent paperback I bought in college is $6.99 or $7.99 today, an increase much greater than inflation. And fewer outlets meant that fewer titles could be published. Almost instantaneously, all non-fiction disappeared from the mass market.

But there still had to be a cheaper way than hardbacks - whose prices were also increasing faster than inflation - to sell mass quantities of books.

A few publishers began experimenting with prestige lines of trade paperbacks. These books were printed off the same printing plates as the hardback editions, and looked exactly like the hardback edition in every way except for the paper covers. So they were relatively quite inexpensive to produce - all the costs of producing a book had already been met. But because they were a prestige item, the publisher could still charge a fairly high price. And the new chain bookstores - not tied to paperback racks of fixed size - were eager to get these titles. They brought customers into the store, whereas a lengthy non-fiction tome brought very few extra people into a drugstore.

And it worked. Publishers traded off mass sales for higher profit margins; customers liked the feel of the trade paperbacks - same size as the old familiar hardback but lighter and easier to hold; authors got a higher royalty off these books - and more prestige, since mass market paperbacks never quite got over the sting of the lurid 1950s covers and the association with genre fiction, which along with bestsellers accounts for almost all mass market paperbacks today. Everybody seemed to win.

Except people like me who find the mass market size easier to hold and deal with, and much easier on the wallet.