“The Narrow Road to the Deep North” by Richard Flanagan, which has just won the Man Booker Prize, is only available in hardback at the moment in the UK. Borrow it FREE from your library.
At 9 inches long and 464 pages deep, it weighs more than half a kilo so it is heavy to take on holiday or on the bus and to buy costs £16.99 A lighter, cheaper paperback edition will be published next year. So why do books come out in hardback first?
It’s usually books that are expected to sell well that come out in hardback first. Known as “windowing” it’s a sales strategy also used in the film industry, where cinema releases precede DVD versions by several months. Like cinema tickets, hardcover books generate more profit per unit than paperbacks. Film buffs like watching on the big screen; book collectors enjoy the hardback’s premium quality.
Hardbacks often have something extra – “The Narrow Road to the Deep North” has bright red endpapers, some embossed covers or come with bookmarks. Literary editors traditionally don’t review paperbacks!
Once hardback sales slow down, a paperback edition is released. More copies are printed and they sell in greater numbers but at a lower margin than the hardback. Libraries buy hardbacks to make sure customers get the title as soon as possible, but we buy paperbacks in much larger quantities to get best value.
Some publishers time their hardback editions to come out just before Christmas, eyeing the gift market, before publishing the paperback edition in time for the summer holidays.
Early books had small print runs and were expensive, and paperbacks only took off in Britain and America in the ’30s, (though had been around since 19thC) when Penguin and New American Library mass-produced cheap, well-designed reproductions of older texts aimed at readers who couldn’t afford hardbacks. Interest in reading as a pastime increased in WW2 – just when paper was in short supply and more efficient methods of printing needed to be found.
Book collectors not wanting to pay for hardbacks, who used to wait for the paperback edition, can sometimes buy the title more cheaply as an eBook . “The Narrow Road to the Deep North” can be bought as an an eBook for about £6. In the past, a successful book might have sold four times as many copies in paperback as hardback, but some recent releases have sold more copies in hardback than paperback, because of eBook versions.
This is where libraries sometimes miss out, not all popular titles are made available by the publishers for libraries to buy as eBooks! But whether you borrow hardback, paperback or the eBook version from libraries, all are free.