Are Hardcovers Outdated?

Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda is a runaway bestseller. I’ve seen it consistently rank as a top fiction title in bestseller lists for months. At first, I didn’t know much about the book, and like many I wondered how it managed to build up so much speed.

An article in The Globe and Mail on Monday tried to demystify this phenomenon. The fact that the book was published as an original trade paperback rather than a hardcover was credited with some of the book’s success. The implication is that the paperback original is an easier sell, so if Secret Daughter had been in hardcover fewer bookstore buyers and fewer readers would have taken a chance on it.

The debate over whether to cut down on hardcover publishing is nothing new. On the one hand, hardcovers are considered prestigious, authors often want them and it is said that reviewers and award juries take notice of them more. They also appeal to a different demographic, and some of these people swear by their preferred format (I’ve seen this first hand while working in a bookstore). And, lets be honest, the higher price helps the book earn out faster if you’ve done your P&L wisely.

But on the other hand, the paperback is more affordable and, depending on the trim size, more portable. I don’t think anyone can deny that the paperback format is necessary (at least for now), helpful and sometimes lucrative. So the question is: Does a book win or lose when the paperback is postponed to the second format? Is the hardcover a burden of tradition or does it still have its place?

My publishing friends, this is certainly worth researching, now and on a regular basis. Have you gathered data on comparative titles to see if original trade paperbacks are working better than hardcovers? What about in the long run? How did the second format (and the third) do for these titles? With several years of sales available on SalesData, it’s worth taking a good look at these statistics, not just for your own program, but for your competition’s as well.

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Um, apparently I’m not the only one with this on the mind this week. The Wall Street Journal just published a piece on this today. But as George Murray at Bookninja points out this is still old news. So back to my point (and shameless BNC pitch), make up your own mind using SalesData.

Here is The Globe article on Secret Daughter’s success.