The Difference Between Paperback & Mass Market Paperback

Updated March 20, 2017

Book publishers and distributors commonly use terms such as hardcover, softcover, trade paperback, and mass-market paperback to describe their products. Although the term "softcover" may refer to both trade paperbacks and mass-market paperbacks to distinguish them from hardcover books, there are often significant differences between trade and mass-market editions. (Reference 1-4)

Function

The term mass-market, when used as a verb, means to sell to as many people as possible. When used as an adjective, mass-market describes products that are designed for sale to a wide range of consumers. Thus, the purpose of printing and promoting mass-market paperbacks is to appeal to the largest number of people across the widest distribution area at the lowest cost. Mass-market paperbacks may be reprints of a book that was originally published as a hardcover or in some instances the mass-market edition may be the first and only form available of a particular work. (Reference 1, 2, 3)

Identification

Mass-market paperbacks are printed using materials of a lesser quality than trade paperbacks. In addition, most mass-market paperbacks have smaller dimensions of width and length than trade paperbacks. For example, a trade paperback may be about the same size in width and length as the hardcover of the same work, whereas a mass-market paperback averages several inches less in width and length. The pages of trade paperbacks are less likely to yellow with age. Also, the spines are less likely to crack and separate. (Reference 2, 3)

Distribution

Trade paperbacks are distributed through traditional "trade" outlets, namely, book dealers and retailers. On the other hand, mass-market paperbacks may be found in display racks near the checkout lanes at supermarkets among the displays set up for impulse purchases. These types of paperbacks are also commonly found on wire racks at the neighborhood pharmacy and convenience store. Many locations where mass-market paperbacks are sold also offer magazines. However, their primary products are not books. (Reference 2, 3)

Features

Designed for convenience and to fit easily in a pocket or handbag and carried aboard an airplane or on a day at the beach, mass-market paperbacks are called "pocket-editions." They also cost less. For example, the same work of fiction in hardcover, trade paperback and mass-market paperback would differ substantially in cost, with the hardcover about twice or more than that of the trade edition and four times more than the mass-market production. The lower cost often results in books being discarded after use or resold at garage sales and charity thrift shops. (Reference 1, 2)

History

Dime novels and pulp fiction, both of which contained genre stories printed in large quantities on cheap materials, were precursors to mass-market paperbacks. Books of this sort often contained sensational, eye-catching cover art and advertisements among the pages. Today, mass-market books may be works of substantial literature, comparing with pulp fiction only through use of cheaper manufacturing materials. The New York Times bestseller lists now have sections for trade paperbacks and mass-market paperbacks, often with the same books at the top of both lists. (Reference 1, 4)

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About the Author

Vicki A Benge began writing professionally in 1984 as a newspaper reporter. A small-business owner since 1999, Benge has worked as a licensed insurance agent and has more than 20 years experience in income tax preparation for businesses and individuals. Her business and finance articles can be found on the websites of "The Arizona Republic," "Houston Chronicle," The Motley Fool, "San Francisco Chronicle," and Zacks, among others.