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Sean Wallace
Posted on Sunday, June 19, 2005 - 06:25 am:   

Let's discuss the above, in terms of authors, agents, and publishing companies. I'm just going to toss out a bunch of thoughts and see where it leads me. As far as I can tell, with print runs growing and price points dropping for large-size paperbacks, and the opposite happening to mass-market paperbacks, I find that a number of things are happening . . .

Obviously, at least from what I recall of most authors a decade ago, they wanted a hardcover deal and then mass-market paperback. Now, it's hardcover, trade, and then mass-market. (In recent years, though, I've noticed some authors simply wanting the mass-market paperback deals, with no understanding of what this actually means.) To me, if I was an author, the prestige and sales and money is in hardcovers and large-size paperbacks, with mass-market paperbacks increasingly the "popcorn" of the market, or moreso than they were previously. To me, this is simple career-positioning, to want hardcover / trade paperback deals.

For publishing companies, with the trade paperbacks gaining more traction in the chains (who are pushing them over mm pbs), this only makes sense. So, are we seeing a drop in mm pb output? And if so, should we really care?

So, authors, what do you think?



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al duncan
Posted on Sunday, June 19, 2005 - 10:17 am:   

I was ecstatic when, after the initial deal being TPB followed by MMPB, Pan Mac decided to put Vellum out as hardcover. I don't know the pros and cons in terms of sales, but royalties are higher for HB and prestige is a definite factor.

MMPBs are aimed more at a *casual* reader looking for a cheap and disposable format, aren't they, so maybe the "popcorn" factor comes from equating this mentality with less discriminating tastes (not always accurate; I know a few crazy people with very discriminating tastes, but who give books away once they're finished reading them, egads!). Actually, I wonder if there's a relation here between the increase in the number of books being published and print runs diminishing for MMPBs -- publishers spreading their portfolios, so to speak. Lower the print runs for individual books. Do more of them to get greater coverage of the readers' unspecific demands for types of books -- MacFantasy, Chick-Lit, whatever. Are we seeing the rebirth of the dime novel, cheap and disposable, marketed at that casual reader who might just as easily pick up something else? I'd be concerned about a deal for just the MMPB on that basis, not wanting mine to be swamped in the morass.

Anyway, if you want to catch the *dedicated* reader's eye, the TPB seems to me clearly designed as a "book to keep". The higher price and higher physical quality aim the book at readers who want books to hold on to, to reread, or who are keen enough to not want to wait for the cheaper MMPB. It sends a message of faith on the publisher's part, to my mind -- that this is a good book in its own right rather than just a certain type of book. You should keep this. You should buy it now.

Random thoughts: If TPBs are on the increase, is that an indication that *dedicated* readers are on the increase? Cause that would be nice. Whether people are spending more for higher quality than the MMPB, or are spending quicker than they would be if the first edition was in HB -- either way it seems good for us authors that the market is supporting larger print runs for the TPB.

But it seems to me, with the TPB taking over some of the "test run" first printing role of the HB these days, the HB is now even more about prestige, ramping up that expression of faith, aiming at the top-end where dedicated readers merge with collectors, positioning the author (or the book at least) as either top of the mid-list or off to one side in their own specialist/cult niche. It's another level of distinctiveness, so in terms of career-positioning, damn right, that's where I wanna be.
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gary gibson
Posted on Sunday, June 19, 2005 - 04:02 pm:   

As far as I know, and this is from talking to my agent, one of the purposes of a trade paperback is to drum up awareness for the mass market, which - or so I've been informed - is where the real sales are in fact are. Trades are more for collectors and hard core audiences, I've been told, and it's a good way of testing the water, particularly if you're a new author, so that when your mass market finally comes out it's not completely unknown. Tie that in with the fact that a lot of people actively avoid buying the trades and specifically wait for the cheaper, smaller, lighter, easier to carry, and less shelf-hogging mmpb. I include myself in the latter: I sometimes buy hardbacks, but mostly I have mmpb's since those are what I have room for. If I had a big house and loads and loads of space, I'd have loads of hardbacks. But, like most people, that isn't an option for me.

Also, trades are cheaper to print, I think, than hb's. That's certainly a factor, though again this is all stuff other people have told me. It feels a bit ironic saying this considering my first book is actually out just now as a trade, but er, I never actually liked the things: they just always felt like a pointlessly large mmpb. Hardbacks make sense, mmpb's make sense, but from an aesthetic point of view trades don't, for me.
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TCO
Posted on Sunday, June 19, 2005 - 08:35 pm:   

They do well with the college-educated chicks buying yaya Oprah crap. I know I dated one...or two.
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Sean Wallace
Posted on Monday, June 20, 2005 - 01:48 am:   

I'm not too sure that a lot of people actively avoid trade paperbacks, not going by the increase in sales in national chain bookstores. They certainly aren't for collectors or hardcore audiences, especially with price points starting to match mass-market. If I can spend a few extra dollars for a better-looking book, I'll do it. So are a lot of other people, I'd imagine.

Personally, if I was an author, I'd want trade hardcover or paperback first, as it'll stay on the shelves a lot longer than a mass-market paperback, which may stay five weeks or less. It might as well never have existed.

But it seems like trade paperback print runs are inching up near some low-end genre mass-market paperback print runs, so the gap is closing slowly.

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Ellen Datlow
Posted on Monday, June 20, 2005 - 07:57 am:   

Mass market has taken a major hit over the past 5 years. They don't sell close to what they did in the old days, when they were cheap. Now a mass market book costs almost the same as a trade paperback and sell in the thousands, not hundreds of thousands that they used to.

Tom Doherty talks about this often on panels at conventions.
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Tim Akers
Posted on Monday, June 20, 2005 - 08:00 am:   

Just an observation. There are writers whose stuff appears exclusively in Trade, at least in the US. Richard Morgan, for example. And he's made a sale or two, here or there. Of course, I know nothing about the business. Chris Moriarty (I think Spin State just came out in MM, but I could be wrong about that.)

Anyway. I used to work in a various bookstores, and the choice of which format to use fascinates me. Please, continue, ye in the know.
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TCO
Posted on Monday, June 20, 2005 - 08:08 am:   

I think it's chicks digging the look of those softy arty trade covers. Look at the yayas--perfect example. They don't even finish the books lots of times. But the packaging is nice. (And way cheaper than hard cover). Mass market is purely for consumption. For Dick Francis and John Grisham.
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JV
Posted on Monday, June 20, 2005 - 08:09 am:   

I think, from what I've heard and read, that the trade paper/mass market paradigm is different in the UK than in the US. Am I right?

JeffV
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Ellen Datlow
Posted on Monday, June 20, 2005 - 10:08 am:   

I've been following the trade paperback history since the 70s and it seems to me that the trade paperback began as a way to introduce literary fiction to readers at a more affordable price than hardcovers. They were often gorgeously designed and were made to last longer than a mass market pb. They got reviewed almost as much as hc did. The trade pb used to be a mark of distinction. I think it's less so now.
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Ellen Datlow
Posted on Monday, June 20, 2005 - 10:09 am:   

Oh, and Sean, mass market paperbacks were always the "popcorn" of publishing. They're made to be read once, and then usually the binding falls apart. They're disposable and they've always been disposable.
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gary gibson
Posted on Monday, June 20, 2005 - 12:43 pm:   

Popcorn of publishing - you know, I never really thought of it that way. I've had some mm's for years and years and years, although I'm pretty much resigned to having to replace them eventually. Now you're making me think of buying more hc's. Poor Gary's bank account. Poor, poor Gary's bank account.
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Brendan
Posted on Monday, June 20, 2005 - 12:51 pm:   

Well - it is not entirely true. I have some mass market paperbacks from the early part of the last century and they are great - still readable (though delicate), and often somewhat valuable.
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Sean Wallace
Posted on Monday, June 20, 2005 - 02:08 pm:   

To some extent, yes, mass-market paperbacks are popcorn. I've no issue with that, inherently, though I tend to look at the hardcover / large-size paperback department of the bookstore, first. I don't go to mass-market for anything original or new. In this, my buying has certainly dropped in recent years, for this reason, and more. With the price of mm pbs starting to match some large-size paperbacks, I simply don't see why I should bother anymore. My eyesight certainly isn't getting any better, so it's worth the extra dollars for the larger paperback (which may be another contributing factor, the aging baby boom population).
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Ellen Datlow
Posted on Monday, June 20, 2005 - 03:39 pm:   

I've had mass markets for years too, but genereally speaking MOST are disposable, and meant to be.

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