Does Size Matter?

A friend of mine reported that she went shopping and bought a Nora Roberts paperback – for $10. Some big splash on the cover said, “Specifically designed for comfortable reading.”

Alas, she reports, it doesn’t come with chocolate.

But what is this comfortable reading thing with the extra cost conveniently built into the purchase price? According to the explanation in the book, the new size is known as “Premium Format:”

The premium format is specially designed for comfortable reading, featuring REMARKABLE improvements on the interior design of the traditional mass market paperback. The book itself is larger, for easier handling. The type is also larger. The paper is brighter and there is more white space between the lines of text, creating a more pleasurable reading experience.

A more pleasurable reading experience. And yet, it doesn’t come with chocolate? Shame, I tell you.

After some cursory Googling, I found an August 2005 article from USAToday (aka McNews) which explains that sales of the mass-market paperbacks, aka the smaller ones, are down, and the folks quoted in the article attribute the decline to various sources, including the Oprah picks which are packaged in trade-paperbacks or hardcover.

So I have to wonder: does size matter? Does a larger trade-sized publication, by occupying territory between mass market and hardback, imply better quality of reading? Do we need a size of book between mass market and trade to make for more “comfortable reading?” Or do publishers need better sales to make themselves more “comfortable?”

In my humble opinion, I think it’s totally a marketing decision, and I think that size does matter. Packaging a book in a larger format does imply that it’s somehow “better,” though the better might be solely based on the idea that the publisher thought enough of the book itself to dress it up with bigger britches.

However, I will say that I’ve got terrible vision. I’m crosseyed and have worn glasses since I was 2. I loooove me some bigger print books. I loved the copies of books I’ve read in trade format that were large enough in print size that I could read them without my prescription glasses on. But I don’t look at the trade format and think “romance.”

So if Nora Roberts is publishing in “comfort format,” and the publisher is charging readers $9.99 for the comfort privilege, do you think people will jump on board? I already bitch and moan about how romance mass markets are $7+. Am I going to pay $9.99 for added “comfort?” Not really. I already paid for these expensive bifocals!

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Tonda says:

    We already have a size between mass market ($5-$8) and hardback ($20-$30): Trade ($14-$16). And I’ve been hearing for about 6 months now that some of the publishers are going to start shifting their MM books over to a form of discounted Trade ($10-$12).

    One of the big issues is that Costco decided to no longer carry MM books, so to get to that market (which is HUGE) the pulishers have to go Trade.

  2. 2
    Sarah F. says:

    Then there’s the questions as to whether MM sales are down for other reasons, like e-books.

  3. 3
    DebR says:

    I’m already disgruntled about trade paperbacks, never mind adding another category!

    To me the best thing about hardbacks is that they look and feel substantial and “quality” and they usually have larger print, and of course they are sturdier.  The bad is the cost and that they aren’t as portable.

    Paperbacks are less expensive and portable enough to always have something on hand to read in my purse, but I usually have to wear reading glasses to read the print and they just don’t have that wonderful hardback feel to them.

    Trade paperbacks, IMO, combine the WORST features of hardbacks and paperbacks, being too big to easily shove into a purse and more expensive, but still somehow flimsy and cheap feeling.  Bleah!!

    Uh…can you tell I’ve thought about this a lot?  Heh.

  4. 4
    SB Sarah says:

    Good question, Sarah F. I wonder if there are other factors they aren’t considering.

    And yeah, I know that the size scale ranges from mass market – trade – hardback. But inserting another size that’s bigger than MM but smaller than HB? Is there a profit well that goes untapped in the size range between MM and HB?  That’s what I can’t figure out.

  5. 5
    SB Sarah says:

    I am so with you DebR! I have a big ol’ black bag that I carry to work because the size of the reading material varies and I hate to not be able to close my bag on the subway.

    But does this new “comfort size” (which for some reason makes me think the book should also be “Ribbed for her pleasure!”) and the existing Trade size mean the death of the MM paperback? And is that a good or bad thing?

    I don’t know, because I have the same print size issues that you have.

  6. 6
    fiveandfour says:

    I’m a bit suspicious myself.  Perhaps because I just read this article regarding used books, but actually I’ve been grumbling to myself for some time about these books.  It’s seemed to me for awhile now that publishers are using this format for the sole purpose of charging more money.  I got that cynical attitude after seeing more than one book first in the usual paperback size at the usual paperback price, then again later in the larger size and at the larger price once it became a good seller.  I think the subliminal message they are trying to send is that with a bigger size and bigger price it’s a better story. 

    It’s also possible I may think this because I’ve always associated “hardback” with “permanent keeper” – a la One Hundred Years of Solitude or Brideshead Revisited and paperback with something a little bit “less than” hardback, though worthy in their own way.  Thus, this in between thing is hard for me to easily quantify and label.

    Beyond the larger price, I also have a gripe about the fact that I’ve found the covers on these books to be gawd-awful.  I don’t just mean from the art and color point of view, but because they are more apt to warping and keeping a warped shape.

  7. 7
    Kerry says:

    I’m with DebR.

    I personally loathe and abominate trade paperbacks.

    If I want to pay more money and have a nice, solid, keeper book, I’ll cough up for the hardcover.

    Otherwise, I want something that takes up less shelf space (I already don’t have enough of that) and that I can slip into my handbag to take with me wherever I go.  (When I shop for handbags my primary search factor is that it will fit a book easily.)  So I’ll by MM.

    If MM disappears, my preference would move to ebooks where available over any kind of trade, whether standard or “comfort” size.

  8. 8
    Michelle, the Diva says:

    Size DOES matter (snerk), but the assumption that bigger is better is sadly in error in this case.


    Diva’s Top Ten Reasons for NOT Liking the New Size Paperback

    10. The type size is not THAT much larger, perhaps a point or two. If and when I need bifocals, I’ll buy glasses, not infinitesimally larger-type books.

    9. The additional white space is just distracting…something that my adult-onset ADHD does NOT need. I suddenly feel the need to doodle.

    8. The cost is prohibitive for someone like me who can read a MM size book in a couple of hours. I’ll be hitting the UBS more if they come out with all of the newer stories like this, but I’ll be buying all OLD books. Anyone have some writers they can recommend?

    7. They don’t match, size-wise, all of my other books. So now, I’ve got 400 regular MM size books, 50 hardcovers, and ONE stinking weirdo-sized book. Dammit, now that chaps my ass, let me tell ya.

    6. The ONE large weirdo-sized book I bought BROKE after one reading. Something was wrong with the binding.

    5. The book I bought wasn’t all that great, so that’s $10 fricking wasted on a shitty weirdo-sized book that fell apart. Now, I’m totally pissed.

    4. Re-read #5, I think it’s worth 2 slots at least.

    3. The book is too damn tall. I like to lay in bed and read, and *whining* this one didn’t ‘feel’ more comfortable to read to me.

    2. My DH said, and I quote, “What’s up with the big book by all of the little books? This is not like you…are you feeling well?” Well, give Mr. I.M. Observant a freaking lollipop for finally noticing SOMETHING. He knows how obsessive I am about the books all matching and the covers all being of the same line and in order. Saints be praised, he DOES listen…on occasion and selectively.

    And last, but not least,
    1. It’s all about the Benjamins, baby. One Benjamin gets me only 10 of the $10 books, whilst I can buy 12 of my beloved regular sized $8 MMs and have $4 left for a Peanut Butter Shake thingy at Arbys on the way home from the bookstore. Hey Mr. McK, look at me use my math skills!

  9. 9
    Arethusa says:

    I think this is a new way to make publishers more comfortable about buying that gorgeous new coffee table that they hitherto could not derive pleasure from because they foolishly passed on the latest Oprah pick.

    In other words, they can shove this new version up their asses. I don’t like to be ripped off. Not when hardcovers are already costing me my ass, thank you very much.

  10. 10
    SB Sarah says:

    The entire topic makes me raise a brow because half the reason Candy and I started discussing what eventually became this here website was based on the fact that I thought mass market paperbacks cost too much at $7.99+!

    And so few of the ones I paid for turned out to be worth it (hence the snarky Smart Bitch reviewing we decided to launch). So am I going to pay $10 for comfort and the possibility of being ripped off even more?

    Ha. As if.

  11. 11
    emdee says:

    As a person who might benefit from the larger type at age 56, I gotta say I do not like the trade paperback. I mean, that’s what reading glasses are for.  The new size is just a ploy to make more money.  How am I going to get them into my purse? I have a question though.  Is it better profit-wise for a publisher to print many copies of a regular 6.99 paperback or to print fewer copies of the same book at 10.00?  The author gets the same money but conceivably could sell fewer books, while the publisher makes more money per book. Sounds like a sneaky strategy on the part of the publishers.

  12. 12

    I’m with Michelle all the way on this. Between over-sized, over-priced books and the latest phenomenon of re-issuing teeny-tiny novellas from anthologies as individual books at the bargain price of £2.99 a pop, I’m not feeling much trippy-hippy love for publishers right now. I can read one of those flimsy novella things in a bathroom break, dammit.

  13. 13
    Tonda says:

    Wow. I had no idea I was on the Island of Trade Paperback Love all by my lonesome. I dislike mass market books. They don’t fit comfortably in my hands. They’re usually so fat the spine cracks. Because they’re “chunky” they don’t fit in my purse (unlike their more svelte trade sister). They look like crap on my book shelves, next to all my HB “keepers” and trade-sized literary fiction and non-fiction (and the book shelves aren’t sized for those tiny books so you have too much empty space above them). And when traveling on the train they scream, “Hey, come bug me, I’m reading crap!” One of the reasons I like chick lit is that most of it is published in the trade size. It’s one (but only one of *GRIN*) the reasons I like romantica. So, for me, size does matter, and I wait with baited breath and eager hands for my beloved historical romances to be issued in this size.

    And I’m not so sure that writers will be losing $. You might sell fewer $10 books, but your % remains the same (let’s say 8% for this example), and do you think New York Times best-sellers (the most likely ones to be issued in the new size for a while) are really going to sell that many less books? If you sold 20K mass market books at $6.99 you’d make a little over $11K. If you only sold 15K $10 trade books you’d make $12K. The new size might hurt a new author, but I doubt they’ll be issuing any first timers in this size, unless the book has serious buzz.

  14. 14
    Susan Gable says:

    Harlequin is experimenting with honest-to-goodness larger print books.  Some of the series are coming out in these editions.  My last book was available in mmpb, and in the new Larger Print edition – which is the same COVER size as regular mmspb, but only longer.  80 pages longer, to be exact.  The print is much easier on your eyes, I can assure you.  Even better, they’re only charging .25 more for the Larger Print edition than the regular one.  I hope they stay that way.

    The drawback?  I don’t think anyone knows they’re out there.

      My Waldens didn’t know my book was available in this edition until I told them.  I thik HQ is focusing on trying to get subscribers for these.  They can also be purchased at Amazon, etc.

    NEXT has been an experiment with the titles being issued in the regular mmpb format, and this new “Up-Back” format that you’re discussing now.  It’s supposed to be an “upscale mm” not a “lowerscale trade.”

    I think in the end, they will evaluate which versions sold better to see what they want to do with them in the long run.

  15. 15
    foggybookgirl says:

    I was going to pick up the Nora Robert’s soft cover “Northern Lights” on Saturday night I picked it up, noticed the new size, darted a look at the price and nearly keeled over.  $13.99 (Canadian) for a paperback book. 

    What really burns my toast however is that even though our nifty Canadian money is all sorts of colors I’ve yet to had any luck in using monopoly money in buying books…darn intelligent book store types.

  16. 16
    Tonda says:

    OMG! Am I allowed to change camps? Stopped by the book store at lunch to check out the new NR book and let me just say: These are NOT Trade-sized as I’d heard they were going to be. It’s just a slightly taller (about 1/4”) mass market book. Grrrrrr. The point of this is what? And for this extra 1/4” they want to raise the price $3-$4 bucks? WTF?

  17. 17
    Robini says:

    I have to agree with DebR about the Trade Paperback combining the worst of both worlds in terms of dimension and price. But, because I usually read in bed and my wrists are only so strong, I’m more likely to buy a trade paperback than a hardbound. Hardbounds are nice in concept, but they’re kinda impractical when it comes to actually reading them.

    For me, Mass market is totally the way to go *unless* I’m re-buying a favorite. They’re small, they’re handy, and compared to the other options, they are cheap.  It does annoy me that places like Borders will *deliberately* stock a Trade Paperback instead of a mass market, (presumably for the markup), but I can think of a few cases where a trade book is the better option.

    All of them being for very, very thick books. I’m emphatically NOT a spinebreaker, and so for heavy tomes (like Atlas Shrugged or Gone with the Wind), it becomes really hard to hold them up. With something that thick I can’t use my thumb-and-first and fourth-and-pinky fingers after the first 100 pages, and holding them open with two hands becomes really really tiring. Also, when you’re talking about books that size, trade paperbacks behave pretty much the same as hardbounds in that you can set them on a surface, and they’ll keep their own page open.

    I still remember buying a MM of something (I think it was Moby Dick) for a High school report, packing the next day and realizing that it was either it OR my brush in my outer pocket. It was the first time I can remember saying “screw this” and going for a larger size. There is something to be said for a “well, it’s not going to be portable anyway” copy.

    I’ll buy trades of a book just too thick/heavy to size down well (or better still, get them out of the library) and Hardcovers or trades of the ones I really like (what can I say? I *do* like the feel of something substantial when I’m already attached). But as for the notion that the general market is calling for trade-sized copies of their favorite new author *instead* of a mass market? I think that’s wishful thinking on the publisher’s part.

    Personally, I think they’re making a point of trying to present Suzie Q. Public with only a larger-size copy, and convince her that either “it’s not out in mass market yet” (seriously – how many people will actually check? Not many, in my experience) or that “literature doesn’t come in mass market format,” which of course, is BS. But, trade paperbacks do tend to convince most people that they’re “new” or “a bestseller” (otherwise, why not stock the MM? surely it would sell better!) and therefore make your average uninformed consumer more grabby (boy, does it work on my mother).

    And one last commentL: One way to look at this new fomat is, “WTF, I don’t want to pay ten dollars!” but the other is, “what the heck, I’m already paying eight…here’s to two extra dollars for quality and comfort.”

    Of course, that’s just what the publishers *want* you to think…I think it may eventually catch on in fic/lit, but as for romance? Most of use read too much too fast to see a book as an ergonomic commitment.

  18. 18
    Kristie says:

    I’m another one who thinks this is nothing but a way for publishers to get more money and I know I should never say never, but I’m never going to give them the satisfaction.  Plus I always have at least two books in my purse – when I buy a new one it always has to be able to carry two – and the new size won’t fit in one.  And you never know when you’ll get stuck in an elevator and need a choice of book to read while you’re waiting for it to get moving again.
    I don’t care if Nora’s publishers do publish in larger size.

  19. 19
    Katy says:

    I am amazed by how many of you have mentioned not being spine-crackers.  That is one of the best parts of getting a brand-new paperback! 
    I don’t think I am entirely clear on all of the different sizes, as in my tiny world there is paperback and hardback, but I only buy hardback if it is a brand new book, just out, it isn’t available in anything else and I absolutely must read it NOW.  I enjoy paperbacks because, unless it is an exceptionally thick book, the $6.99 price make it easy for me to buy half a dozen on Amazon, without feeling too guilty.  I refuse to pay ten bucks for a paperback.  I think the whole idea of paperback books is to get something easily affordable to the general public.  Hardbacks are for when you finally have a real job and can afford them.  A size in between, that is still paperback, but more expensive???  Ripoff. 
    I also totally agree about it not fitting in on my bookshelf.  There are some books that I would like to buy, but won’t because they don’t come in the right height.  They would look wierd.  The few hardbacks that I have look weird enough as it is.

  20. 20
    Book Mom says:

    I don’t like the new size either. Not only do they cost more, they won’t fit in my purse and they are difficult to hold while on the treadmill. Did I mention that I hate they cost more? For someone on a budget, I only buy hardbacks when the author is a major favorite. The whiteness of the new tspb is also too white as to be glaring.

  21. 21
    Michelle K says:

    I love mass market paperbacks. Love them. They’re light, they fit in my jacket pocket for the most part, and they cost less.

    My biggest problem with paperbacks is that publishers have recently started messing with line spacing and margins and font size.

    For example my pulp fiction James Bond books are MM sized, and about a quarter of an inch thick. I just saw the re-releases, and they’re an inch think. As I don’t think that they have added new material (although I could be wrong!), they’re doing something to make the book look bigger to justify the new jacked-up price.

    I’ve noticed it with other authors who have had their books re-released. The new books are twice as thick as the original publication. Can they go back to original size and cut the price 50 cents or something AND save some trees?

    I’d much rather have the 1/4 inch mass market paperback.

  22. 22
    Jenny K says:

    re: Diva’s list

    # 7 – ha! you think they look weird, try getting stacks of them to fit properly into all the bookstore fixtures that were made for shorter books. grrrr

    #3 – they don’t look comfortable to me, so I’m not surprised.


    If the publishers are trying to psych people out into thinking that there is one more step between mass market and trade (rather than the new format replacing mass markets) then they need to convince the bookstores to get on board – except for the cardboard displays the publishers give us, we are marketing them with the rest of the mass markets. (Where else are we going to put them?)  A lot people don’t even realize at first that they aren’t normal sized.

    And Michele #2 – if they really want to cut costs – and save trees – they need to stop making such large first runs of new mass markets (and convince booksellers to use fixtures that don’t require as many copies to display them properly).  Do you have any idea how many mass markets get dumped in the trash after a few months?  I don’t even want to think about how mush money it costs or trees it kills.

  23. 23

    I don’t get it myself. I saw something else weird…have you seen the little short books? I saw them in the supermarket. Short stories by Sherrilyn Kenyon and the like, in small single volumes. Like diet sex novels.

    Gee, ya think they finally picked up on something that ebook companies have known a long time…that people like little cheap short stories? Snicker.

  24. 24
    HelenKay says:

    I read somewhere that the trade paperback rage was purely marketing – that younger female readers (think the early chick lit targets) prefer trade to mass market.  When chick lit took off, thus having trade take off, publishers followed because they wanted to attract and keep those younger readers. 

    The books I find to be a really strange size are the new Harlequin Next books.  They’re longer but not as wide.  Very strange looking things.

  25. 25
    Amanda says:

    Yeah, size matters & not all of us are convinced bigger is better unless, of course it’s harder! As in hardcover. As has been said above I plan to stick with standard MMs for the vast majority of my purchases- hardcover is only for classics and absolutely must have forever keepers.

  26. 26
    Bonnie says:

    and the folks quoted in the article attribute the decline to various sources, including the Oprah picks which are packaged in trade-paperbacks or hardcover.

    I *knew* that woman was Satan’s hand-maiden. At least when she’s on TV, I can flip the channel. Now she’s messing with my reading? There’s gonna be hell to pay …

    And yes, in Canada the “new” books start around $13.99. More and more – no matter what the ethics are – I’ve started supporting my local used-book-store, the local library for trying out new authors, and get my auto-buy authors in hardcover thru sites like alibris & abebooks. The only way to fight back against the publishers supposed concern for us the reader is with our hard-earned dollar!

    — Bonz

  27. 27
    Candy says:

    I will brave the tide of popular opinion and say: Size does not matter!

    I’m looking at my bookshelves right now, and I have almost as many trade paperbacks as I do MMPB—mostly because I have a really healthy stack of literary fiction to be read, and most literary fiction here in the states is TPB.

    AS for the oddly-sized plus-sized MMPB—I haven’t seen the American incarnation yet, but I know that Penguin has been publishing paperbacks in a dizzying variety of sizes for several years overseas. They’re not designed for comfort, nor is the font size bigger—none of that malarkey. But certain Penguin imprints just tend to be a bit taller than the average MMPB, but smaller than the average TPB. They seem to do it for classics. My copy of Return of the Native that I bought in Singapore, for example, is a good 1/4” taller than the average MMPB.

    I don’t arrange my books by alphabetical order, I arrange them by height. Yes, I’m weird. But it makes it easy for me to tell how big a book is at a glance, hee hee.

    As for the itty-bitty books that contain only a short story or so: Penguin did that, too, several years back. I have two short stories by Cervantes compiled in an itty-bitty paperback that I bought in Malaysia in 1996. I just pulled it off my shelf and looked at the price sticker. It cost RM2.45—the average book back then cost about RM20.00-RM24.00. So, about 10% of the price for about 10% of the story. Sounds about right. These were meant to be sampler plates, I think—whet your appetite for more. I have no idea how this worked for Penguin, and whether they’re still doing this overseas, or whether they’ve given up on the idea, but it sounds like publishers have picked up on it again. I hear that these new mini-books are $4.99 each or summat—man, that’s way, way too much for an itty-bitty book, in my opinion.

    Anyway, this “for comfort” thing and the jacked-up price sound pretty ridiculous. Unless it’s an author I adore already, I doubt I’m going to pay extra, especially if the book is available in another format.

  28. 28
    Shannon says:

    I can’t stand the new upperbacks for all the reasons mentioned.  The print isn’t really any bigger, the added height adds weight at the top of the book, making my thumb cramp, they cost more and, probably the thing that irks me most, they’re too tall to shelve with the paperbacks and too narrow to shelve with the trade paperbacks. 

    Our grocery store has gone almost entirely to whatever upperbacks they can get, which has drastically dropped the number of books they carry.  Another local store was getting the NEXT Novels in the upperback size, but recently started stocking them in both.  (Which took shelf space from…it looks like Harlequin Historicals, maybe.)

  29. 29
    Darla says:

    So far, the only books I’ve seen in the premium size paperback are ones I didn’t want anyway, or already had in hardcover, so it hasn’t actually affected me.  Maybe it’ll stay that way.  Uh-huh.  I’ve read one, but the book was crap, and the format didn’t help it at all.

    I’m just not convinced we need yet another size/price point, and my paranoid side worries that it’s the publishers’ way of easing us into a standard $10 for a paperback, and if it becomes standard, it’ll hurt not established authors but new ones.

    I can justify—just—paying $8 for a book by an unknown author if people whose taste I trust rave about it.  But more than that and I’m likely to look for it used instead.

  30. 30
    Tara Marie says:

    I hate to admit it, I bought this book for $6.49 at a discount store, not the $9.99 cover price, and I also hate to admit I found it easier to read not because the print is bigger, there’s more space between the lines.  I didn’t even need my glasses.  I wouldn’t have paid the full cover price for it, I only bought it because of the discount.

    I’m not sure it’s going to catch on.  Does anyone remember when one of the big publishing houses tried MM sized hardcovers?  The size of these new books remind me of travel and tourism brochures, tall and thin.  This makes a big book like the NR’s hard to hold—this book’s 656 pages and it makes the darned thing top heavy if you’re holding it at the bottom.

    And, I agree that it’s a ploy for publishers to charge more money.  It may work if they continue to publish big sellers like Nora Roberts, but is it going to kill mid-list and new authors’ book sales?  Are we as likely to shell out $10 for an unknown author?

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