Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Hardcover, Trade Paperback, Mass-market

A recent article in The Wall Street Journal covering Elizabeth Gilbert's memoir, Eat, Pray, Love, really gets interesting when it veers off into the old hardcover vs. trade paperback vs. mass market debate, and how it effected Gilbert's book's huge success.
An excerpt:
Ms. Gilbert's experience shows what a big influence fancy trade paperbacks are having on an industry that prices its mass-market paperbacks at about $7.99. Back in the 1970s, those smaller, rack-sized paperbacks were the blockbusters of the business, led by such best sellers as William Peter Blatty's The Exorcist (11 million copies sold); Peter Benchley's Jaws (more than nine million copies), and Sidney Sheldon's The Other Side of Midnight (six million copies plus).

"One of the mantras of publishing economics of the 1970s and early 1980s was that mass-market paperbacks could achieve 10 times the sales of a hardcover," says Stuart Applebaum, a spokesman for Bertlesmann AG's Random House Inc. Then retailers started discounting hardcover titles, and the smaller, cheaper paperbacks lost ground.

Laurence Kirshbaum, a book agent who heads up LJK Literary Management in New York, estimates that the current ratio between hardcover and paperback sales is one to one -- mostly because so many hardcover books are so steeply discounted. "These days the bulk of the people who are interested in a book buy it in hardcover; that's what makes titles such as 'Eat, Pray, Love' so exceptional," says Mr. Kirshbaum. "They are throwbacks to the days when paperbacks sold huge multiples of the hardcover."