July 30, 2010


Since I published my first novel, I’ve grown wiser about the publishing industry and as I continue to write, I hope to learn more. One practice that baffles me, however, is the continued existence of the hardback book. I heard or read somewhere that hardbacks bring in the biggest profits for a publisher, but I don’t see how. I buy a hardback (unless it’s a fine arts book) only if it’s deeply discounted. Generally, they cost $24.95 or more. I can’t afford these prices so I wait for the paperback edition or, if I’m feeling impatient, I borrow from the library.

As an author, I wouldn’t want my work to appear in hardback. I want my books to sell inexpensively so I can reach as many readers as possible. And I certainly don’t want my writings to collect dust on a bookstore shelf because the price is too high.

As a consumer, I have the same goal. I want a book to be affordable. High prices should be reserved for rare books.

Frankly, I prefer soft covers over hard covers for several reasons. Hardbacks don’t serve as well as paperbacks when I’m tucked under the blankets at night, intending to read by the light of my table lamp. Stiff covers aren’t bendable and it’s hard to fit them under my small, honey-colored circle of light. Nor can I hold the hardback in my hands for long without tiring my arms. I try sitting up, lying down, or turning on my side in a never ending search for the most comfortable way to read in bed without becoming exhausted. By the time I’ve turned a few pages, I’m so frustrated, I put the book aside and reach for a magazine.

As to the convenience of carrying a book to the doctor’s or dentist’s office, I needn’t make much argument. Everyone knows a paperback is portable and lighter to carry than a hardback.

What’s more, stores that buy used books tend to pay a smaller percentage of the original price for hardbacks than they do for paperbacks. I might get $3.00 for a $25 stiff cover but $1.50 for a $6.00 soft cover. When I asked a clerk why the disparity, he said they paid less for hardbacks because they were more difficult to sell. I rest my case about profitability.

Except for libraries, who buys these tomes? Who’s willing to pay the inflated prices then suffer the inconvenience of dragging these doorstops around?

In this electronic age where the paperback is losing ground to the Kindle or similar products, I’m hard pressed to predict how long the hardback can continue to exist. They need to go the way of cuneiform tablets.