Monday, March 9, 2009

Is the hardback getting obsolete?

Would you get this book in hardback?

I love hardbacks. I love their sturdy feel. I love that I don't have to worry about the books getting creased when I put them in my tote bag. I love how they smell. I love the clean, easy-to-ready type in no-smudge ink printed in acid-free paper. When I think of my ever-growing library, I imagine it stocked with thousands of hardbacks. But if you ask me if I would be willing to buy a hardback edition of a first time author, I'd probably reply, "I'll just wait for the paperback, thank you."

Hardbacks are definitely more costly than the mass market paperback and trade paperback. In the Philippines, a typical hardback costs about 1,000 pesos (approximately US $25). The paperback costs a fraction: the mass market usually for about 300 pesos (US $8) and the trade paperback for 600 (US $12). Because of this staggering costs of hardbacks, especially in these financially unstable times, one blogger proposes that we do away with the hardbacks. He argues that consumers rarely take chances on buying hardbacks from first-time authors because of the price tag. I can't help but agree with him on this point.

The practice of coming out with the hardback first and then the paperback edition several months after is standard in the publishing industry. What's surprising to note is that hardbacks, unless they're written by well-known names (e.g., King, Grisham, Sparks, Clancy, Evanovich), perform so poorly in the market. The real money comes in when the less-costly paperbacks are released. Unless a first-time author gets endorsed by Oprah or Richard and Judy, his books usually don't appear in the hardback bestseller lists.

I grew up reading and buying paperbacks, probably because these were the only ones sold in National. Most of the copies sold in FullyBooked and PowerBooks are paperbacks. It all boils down to economics, again. Let's say that you're earning around 20,000 pesos and you're planning to buy that hardback. This means that you'll be spending 5% of your income on something that you'll most likely read for a few days, and that isn't very practical. If you have bills to pay, I think it's a bit irresponsible. Still, if it makes you happy getting that hardback, then by all means do so. The author could certainly use the royalties.

The reality is that people wait for the paperback editions because they want to check out the reviews. If first-time authors do come up with a novel that earns several literary awards, all these awards will be listed in the covers of the paperbacks, further assuring people that the book is good. If that author further establishes his reputation by consistently churning out good novels, then people get more comfortable buying the hardbacks. I wouldn't think twice about getting the next Ian McEwan novel in hardback. With Rushdie, probably not, unless he returns to his Midnight's Children form.