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Mugwump
January 5th, 2005, 05:11 PM
Glancing through my bookshelf, Iím constantly perplexed by the myriad shapes and sizes of SF books that I have collected over the years. Is there - will there ever be any kind of standardization? Iíve got softbacks (Aldissís Trillion Year Spree) that dwarf hardbacks (SF Masterworks). Iíve got paperbacks that are a third deeper than their kin (Alastair Reynoldsís Inhibitors Trilogy). At times I feel like Iím looking at a freakishly constructed histogram!

Is there anyone here who can shed some light on why there are so many shapes and sizes of hard and softbacks? Are there names or categorizations for them?

vgunn
January 6th, 2005, 01:09 AM
Is there anyone here who can shed some light on why there are so many shapes and sizes of hard and softbacks? Are there names or categorizations for them?

There seems to be about seven standard sizes and names:

1.) 4.25" x 6.75" Mass Market Paper
2.) 5.5" x 8.5" Trade Paper (sometimes called digest)
3.) 6" x 9" Handbook
4.) 7" x 9" Textbook
5.) 7.5" x 9" Art Book
6.) 8.5" x 11" Manual
7.) 9" x 12" + Coffee Table Book

Rocket Sheep
January 6th, 2005, 05:04 AM
In Australia we like little soft covered books we can stuff in our pockets quickly in case our mates go by and catch us reading instead of playing sport and think we're smart. In America they like big wide books in case their mates go by and catch them reading instead of playing sport and think they're smart. It's all to do with how sports mad a nation is... I think.

Sammie
January 6th, 2005, 07:17 AM
Alistair Reynolds books are ridiculous though - they're practically square!!

KatG
January 6th, 2005, 12:33 PM
Glancing through my bookshelf, Iím constantly perplexed by the myriad shapes and sizes of SF books that I have collected over the years. Is there - will there ever be any kind of standardization? Iíve got softbacks (Aldissís Trillion Year Spree) that dwarf hardbacks (SF Masterworks). Iíve got paperbacks that are a third deeper than their kin (Alastair Reynoldsís Inhibitors Trilogy). At times I feel like Iím looking at a freakishly constructed histogram!

Is there anyone here who can shed some light on why there are so many shapes and sizes of hard and softbacks? Are there names or categorizations for them?

Okay, SF/F history lesson 101. In the beginning, there were magazines. Actually, most of them started out more like cheap black and white comic books with illustrations and stories. The stories were very brief, on average. They were geared to an audience of young boys to get their occasional pocket money. They varied between pure sf, usually of the adventure type, horror and fantasy. They often featured pretty women with heaving chests. They were called pulp magazines because they were made out of cheap or recycled wood pulp paper. From these magazines came newer magazines with fewer illustrations, longer stories and a stronger focus on sf. Sometimes, longer stories, called novellas, or anthology collections assembled by the magazines were also published as small pocket paperbacks, otherwise known as mass market paperbacks or rack paperbacks because they were designed to fit in racks at the pharmacy and other stores.

Mass market paperbacks had been designed a good deal earlier as penny novels as general literacy and schooling increased, on the theory that people who would never spend good money on hardcover books might buy something really cheap that looked sort of like a newspaper. In the U.S., paperbacks rose to popularity thanks to vivid tales about the American Old West. Meanwhile hardcovers got larger in size with longer bindings on average. Mass market paperbacks could get a much larger distribution to non-bookstore outlets than hardcovers, were cheaper to stock and sell, and when publishers instituted their return policies where the book vendors could return unsold books to the publishers and get a full refund, paperbacks were easier to return than hardcovers as they could just rip off the covers and ship those back, leaving the books themselves to be pulped.

Some editors and sf fans got the bright idea to start publishing houses/imprints that collected works as paperbacks and got the writers to write longer tales to be published as novels. All these books were mass market paperbacks specifically targeted at the fan genre audience that bought the magazines -- again, mostly young males. This proved profitable, and by the fifties, when paperback publishing began to dominate publishing, book publishing began to dominate the sf field, given that authors could make a lot more money with the books than the magazines, not that magazines were out for the count. This is considered the start of the second Golden Age of sf or the Silver Age, depending on who you talk to. Almost all the sf publications were in mass market paperback, because they were selling to a niche market that did not usually frequent bookstores. Many bookstores did not stock the sf paperbacks at all. The public libraries did not carry sf titles, except in the children's section. The novels were usually short, sometimes the result of smushing several novellas together or making a novella longer.

Over time, the novels got longer. More series were developed. The sf conventions took off, in part thanks to the Star Trek phenomena, providing a large boost for sales. Genre fantasy was born. Bookstores put a small sf/f section in the back of the stores. Computer games that made much use of sf and fantasy were developed and became popular. But for books, it was still a niche market and most of the publications were in mass market paperback. Occasionally, a bestseller in the genre or iconic author would have their work published in hardcover or trade paperback first or have hardcover keepsake editions come out from a small press. Trade paperback was a larger paperback format, slightly smaller than or around the same size as a standard hardcover. It was used in mainstream fiction primarily for stories with a literary edge or style that were deemed to not quite merit a hardcover publication. Trade paperback first editions became popular in sf and especially in epic fantasy where the length often strained paper covers, but were not usually used for first time authors.

Then the market got bigger. There were more women readers of the genres, especially for fantasy. Mainstream reviewers started to pay a little attention -- but would only review those works in hardcover. Hardcover and trade paper editions started popping up more frequently as it was found genre fans would buy them. The public libraries started carrying more and more sf/f titles. Academics began to more frequently study sf/f writers. Movie/t.v. tie-in series took off and sf movies and television shows did well. The computer gaming market became huge. The sf/f section began to move from the back of the bookstore more toward the middle and to be given more shelf space. Unfortunately, the sf magazine market continued its slow drop, though it's still respected.

In the nineties, sf publishers developed a new strategy -- the limited hardcover or trade paperback first printing for all or nearly all titles, regardless of whether the author had a track record or not. The limited printing was specifically to get the book into libraries and to get genre and non-genre reviews to build buzz, to be followed by the traditional mass market paperback printing where the real sales were to come in. This proved extremely successful and as had happened in mysteries many years before, hardcover editions started to become commonplace, though the market is still mainly in mass market paperback. Then came Harry Potter, creating an explosion in both the children's field and adult genre sf/f, and encouraging the hardcover or trade paperback first printing trend.

So now, instead of all those easily stackable mass market paperbacks, sf/f is closer to resembling the rest of the fiction market. The three main formats are hardcover (standard is that 6x9 inch size but they can be much larger or smaller,) trade paperback (standard slightly smaller than hardcovers, though they can be the same size as a standard hardcover or be much larger,) and mass market paperback (usually around six inches, but can be slightly longer or shorter.) Vgunn did a nice breakdown of exact sizes, but those are the three categories that are mainly of interst for sf/f. Illustrated stories or those with photos usually are put into larger hardcover or trade paperback editions to accomodate the artwork and higher price. Prices on all three formats has climbed, due to inflation and the increasing costs of paper and printing, but the used bookstore market has also expanded. That's mainly in the U.S. & Canada. The other markets, like Australia, may use somewhat different standard sizes. It makes loads of sense to the production people and is a bit of a headache for Amazon.com.

Rocket Sheep
January 6th, 2005, 06:54 PM
Wow! Thanks KatG. Very interesting. And great that pulp mags are still going today.

You can buy most Alistair Reynolds books here in the small rectangle 75cm x 10cm (perhaps number 1 on that imperial list above), which used to be our standard. KatG indicated it was created in the US for cheapness, and it was probably used here for the same reason, shipping costs, lower incomes etc... anyway, it was the standard and only size books came in downunder for years. A flood of American sizes (no. 3) have taken over the market in the last few years and I suspect we won't be able to hide the latest Alistair Reynolds in our pockets either. I actually prefer the smaller books. Easier on the environment too.

Abby
January 6th, 2005, 10:34 PM
I also prefer them small-sized.

I find it very difficult to arrange my bookshelves nicely, what with all the size differences. Every other entertainment media comes in nice, standardized sizes (except for those super-sized Disney VHS boxes). I don't particularly like the "trade paperback" phenomenon, though I'm sure it benefits someone somewhere. I like things to be neat and organizable.

Mugwump
January 7th, 2005, 04:13 AM
Thanks for the info, KatG. :D

So, say the Asimov reprints - they are mass market? Whereas books along the lines of SF or Fantasy Masterworks - they are trade paperbacks?

I guess my main problem is with with this "grey area" between trade and hardback. For instance, John Brunner's The Sheep Look Up (American edition) is an absolutely enormous paperback. It dwarfs some of my hardcovers.

The Alastair Reynolds books are a complete riddle also. I've never come across a paperback with such curious (not to mention maddening) dimensions before. I take it that the format isn't common?

Sammie
January 7th, 2005, 08:19 AM
You can buy most Alistair Reynolds books here in the small rectangle 75cm x 10cm (perhaps number 1 on that imperial list above), which used to be our standard.Wow! You Antipodeans read some seriously tall thin books! I mean, how deep are your pockets?! ;) :)

Sheepie - please tell me that was a typo! :D


On a more serious note - sizes differ again in the UK. We seem to have 3 sizes of hardback - Off-the-shelf sf/f comes in GIANT hardbacks with HUGE print, other genres use middle-sized hardbacks and book clubs make small hardbacks, not much bigger than a mass market paperback. Then we do three sizes of paperback - GIANT trade paperbacks for fantasy (and maybe some sf?), middle-sized paperbacks for everyone else (these would fall into the US trade paperback category I suspect, but to us in the UK their high quality pages and non-self-adherent print are just what we think of as a 'normal book' :D), and smaller, nicely matching, MMPs across all genres. Books are never normally published in the middle size AND the smaller size paperback, the publisher just decides which they prefer to go for. Alistar Reynolds' paperbacks look SILLY next to all this regimentedness, imo - although they do quite literally 'stick out' in the bookshops!!

The other weird thing is that sizes clearly didn't used to be standardised like this - if you buy second-hand hardback from 20-100 years ago then the sizes are totally irregular. (WHY is this GLORIOUS game cheaper than buying a book new??! I have the first 'pocket' edition of 'Tess of the D'Urbevilles for like a POUND!)

Worth mentioning that the concept of trade vs MM paperbacks is a bit weird over here anyway, as there was no such distinction made originally. As our MMPs are already usually very good quality, a lot of the advantage of a trade paperback is therefore lost on us. On the downside, it means our books are very expensive. It can be cheaper to Buy a US MMP and have it shipped over here, than to go into a bookstore and buy the equivalent off the shelf. But by comparison the US quality is SOOOO tacky looking, and with newspaper print. *shudder*. It's just not cricket!! :D

Weirdly, our MMPs are just SLIGHTLY bigger than the american ones, too. I mean REALLY slightly, but enough to irritate me! And the Aussie paperbacks are just SLIGHTLY differently sized to ours, too... Dunno if it's a metric vs imperial measurements thing?

KatG
January 7th, 2005, 01:14 PM
Thanks for the info, KatG. :D

So, say the Asimov reprints - they are mass market? Whereas books along the lines of SF or Fantasy Masterworks - they are trade paperbacks?

I guess my main problem is with with this "grey area" between trade and hardback. For instance, John Brunner's The Sheep Look Up (American edition) is an absolutely enormous paperback. It dwarfs some of my hardcovers.

The Alastair Reynolds books are a complete riddle also. I've never come across a paperback with such curious (not to mention maddening) dimensions before. I take it that the format isn't common?

In book publishing, size doesn't really matter. :) Well it does, especially in production costs, but standardization is not the goal. The big division is between hardcovers (board) and soft covers (paper.) These are two separate sets of licensing rights. Publishers make deals to buy hardcover rights, which entitles them to publish a hardcover edition and to sell/license the softcover rights to other publishers and split the monies from that deal with the author, or they buy hard/soft, which means they can publish the book in either hard or soft cover, howsoever they like, or they can license the softcover rights to some other house. Usually, if a publisher is planning a hardcover publication first, to be followed by some form of paperback edition, they will pay a larger advance for the rights, but for sf/f fiction, that doesn't necessarily happen, since any hardcover edition is mainly for promotional and audience building purposes, unless you're someone like J.K. Rowling. In very rare instances, a big name author has retained all softcover licensing rights for himself, something they used to fear in publishing might become the norm, but it proved impractical for authors and hasn't happened.

Once you're talking about softcover, it breaks down into the two broad categories of trade paperback and mass market paperback. If the publisher puts out a soft edition instead of selling the rights, the author usually gets two different royalty rates for these two formats, though they are in the same set of licensing rights. Essentially, in the adult market, mass market paperback is the fairly standard Size #1 and trade paperback is every softcover edition that is larger than that. Really small paperbacks are called chapter books and are not usually done by the main publishers and are usually for short works by small presses. (This is just the U.S., mind you.) In the children's section, the paperback chapter books for younger kids, being thinner, may be taller but still be considered mass market, and then you have the picture books which are hard or soft cover, so it gets very funky over there.

If there's a hardcover edition, it is usually followed by a trade paper or mass market paperback edition. If there's a trade paperback edition, it may or may not be followed by a mass market paperback edition. For sf/f fiction, it probably would be followed by a mass market paper edition. It's not common, but not strange for a work to get an edition in all three formats eventually. If an author does not come out in hardcover, but only paperback editions, it's called a paperback original publication.

Once a publisher has bought licensing rights, they figure out what would be the best format and the best size for the work. A lot of production cost, pricing and publicity factors go into this decision. For instance, for the contemporary novel "An American Quilt," the publisher decided to put out a hardcover edition that was small and square like a square of a patchwork quilt. It had a somewhat lower price than a standard hardcover, but most importantly, it stood out among all those larger hardcovers and appealed to booksellers. That strategy worked so well that small square hardcovers became much more frequent. SF/F didn't put out hardcovers for a long time because they knew fans couldn't afford and wouldn't buy such an edition, until the fan audience matured and grew enough to accomodate hardcovers. Now limited hardcover editions have become a very useful tool, and this has also increased the genre use of trade paperback editions.

The decision to do hardcover or trade paperback tends to depend on the type of book and what the publisher believes are its prospects. If the publisher brings it out in trade paper, they can sell it for a lower price than for hardcover. If they make the trade paperback very large, they don't have to lower the price that much and it might be useful to do that for a number of different reasons. If there's illustrative material, they tend to go large to display and accomodate it and to be able to charge a high enough price to cover the increased production costs of the artwork. In the sf/f genre, say they've got a first-time author they are excited about. They think he'll make a big enough splash and is "literary" enough that making a mass market launch would have him be too buried in the market. But they're not sure they can get enough attention to justify the price of a hardcover edition. So they put him out in a trade paperback edition, almost as large as a hardcover edition but not quite as expensive. The trade paper format telegraphs "stylist" to the booksellers and fan community, and has a better chance of getting reviews and into libraries than a mass market paper edition will. If the trade paperback does okay and gets the author's name out, they then follow up with a mass market edition. So a big factor in format and in sizing is the price of the book -- what price will readers be willing to pay. Another factor is, how can we have this book stand out from other books in the market. A third factor is how much it's going to cost them to do it in that size and format, and so on. Large print editions for those with limited eyesight are usually bigger than the regular standard sizes because of the larger typeface.

I think, though I'm not sure, that the Brits probably invented the mass market paperback, so I'm not surprised to hear that theirs are better quality. In America, they became dime novels that you could buy for a dime, so the important thing was to make it as cheap as possible for the masses. Then when returns entered the picture, it was all over. The publishers started the return policy as a way to get vendors to buy more paperbacks, only it came back and bit them on the behind. So returns are now the bane of publishers' existence, but booksellers and vendors aren't about to give them up. So that also can effect a format decision, since hardcover refunds are a lot more expensive than paper, and for paperback returns -- you lose the cost and the books themselves. (Trade paper books are usually returned to the publisher like hardcovers.)

This is why, unless you are a celebrity actor whose name alone may sell, who you know doesn't matter a hoot in book publishing, because they can't afford to publish a vanity project. If a book doesn't sell, they lose tons of cash from the returns, so they only publish what they think will actually sell (whether they will be wrong or right about that is anybody's guess.) See, but nobody believes me. :D

I haven't seen the recent U.S. Asimov reprints, Mugwump, so I don't know, but if they're around the standard 6x9 rack size with soft covers, then yes, they'd be mass market reprints. Asimov's works have been reprinted in just about every type of format, including nice leather-bound hardcovers with gold leaf. It looks like a number of the U.S. sf/f publishers -- Tor, Bantam Spectra -- are currently making a concentrated effort to do paperback reprints of the classic authors, which is nice to see since a few years ago I heard just the opposite -- that they were letting the older authors' backlists go out of print. There also seems to be a rise in the omnibus strategy, at least in sf -- binding several backlist novels in a series into one hardcover book. These omnibus hardcovers are usually a little larger or a little smaller than the standard hardcover size, again to make them stand out on the shelves probably or because the publisher is trying to reduce the 3-in-1 book price or increase it. The book clubs usually put out smaller hardcovers to distinguish their club editions from the publisher's regular hardcovers.

Does Brunner's work have some sort of illustrations? Was there a hardcover edition first? Your guess why they went that way is as good as mine. On the Reynolds paperbacks, I don't know if they're mass market or trade size, but yes, really thick paperbacks are becoming quite normal. It's the influence of epic fantasy, but also, because the publishers have found that fans are willing to buy really thick paperbacks or even really thick hardcovers of sf and fantasy stories, resulting in fewer large books being broken up into smaller ones. If Tolkein came on the scene now with LOTR, breaking it into three novels might never come up. But back in the sixties, doing a paperback that thick was a dificult proposition in terms of production and in terms of getting people to pay for it.

I think this may set a record for my longest post, here. :)