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Inside the Blogosphere: Hardback, Trade, MMP, Audiobook or Ebook?

Today’s roundtable question was inspired by Jeff C’s comments on the quality of mass market paperbacks. As always, if you would like to participate in one of our roundtable sessions, please email me through the link in the navbar above stating your request, your blog (or published work, if an author), and your name/pseudonym.

Though we all know that some books only come out in certain formats, if the world were perfect and you could have a book in any published format, which do you prefer – hardcover, trade paperback, mass market paperback, audiobook or ebook? Why?

Stacy @ Scooper Speaks: I prefer mass market books because they are the easiest and most comfortable to hold. My hands don’t feel strained after hours of holding the book, I can flip-flop and still hold the book and most importantly, if I damage the book I can easily replace it which means I can take it in the bath with me.

SQT @ Fantasy and Sci-Fi Lovin’ Blog: I feel like I should just take Scooper’s answer and say “ditto.”

I’m all about ease. I rarely buy hardcovers because they’re inconvenient; I can’t fit them in my purse. Like Scooper I like to take my books in the bath, so paperbacks work best for that. I have never gotten into ebooks because I don’t like reading off the computer. I don’t know about the Amazon Kindle because I’m not going to spend $350+ on a download device when I am perfectly happy buying books off the shelf. I’m a mass market paperback gal.

Gareth @ Falcata Times:Preferred format is always a tricky one to answer to be honest. Generally I prefer a hardback, purely for the selfish reasoning of rereads, yes they take up more space but paperback’s don’t stand up so well on multiple rereads and if it s a book that you enjoy you want something that will be special on your shelf and will stand the test of time along with handling. I also tend to prefer the paper format to a book over an E-reader for the fact that when you get to meet your favourite authors you can get it signed. Try doing that with a reader.

It’s a shame I suppose, as I’d have to admit that were I to go on holiday with the volume that I read an E-Reader would be ideal purely for the fact that you can store an absolute ton of books without having to worry about carrying weight, yet other things that turn me off the e-format is the cost of the product when technically all a seller has to do is purchase one and they can then sell that in volume. It does seem a bit high at the moment to make this a serious consideration let alone the cost of the reader.

It will be interesting to see how the industry changes over time, however currently the E-Reader is a bit of a White Elephant as far as I’m concerned, paper has a certain way to be held, it has a smell, its tangible and you can get it signed. Add to the fact that for me books carry memories, in much the same way that films and music do for others so when I peruse my shelving I get an additional trip down memory lane, you just can’t do that with the E-Reader.

SciFiGuy @ In a perfect world every book would come in a hardcover format, preferably slip-cased and signed by the author. Of course particularly thick fantasy books of this nature tend to give you a bit of a workout. Hardcovers can also be wonderful objects d’art. They often offer additional interior touches from frontpieces and maps, to chapter heading graphics and usually finer quality of paper. Dust jacket art and information is usually superior to paperbacks. All of these things contribute to a pleasurable reading experience.

Ideally every authors books would be issued in hardcover. I often wonder what the long term literary legacy is for those authors whose writing career is a stream of mass market paperbacks. Libraries might stock them initially, but with limited durability will they even be in the catalogue 10 years hence.

As both a reader and book collector, I find mass market paperbacks and ebooks have drawbacks I don’t care for. Material quality issue aside, paperbacks are often lazy publishers reductions of the typesetting of the hardcover edition and fail to take into consideration appropriate use of white space/margins and suitable font selection for the smaller format making many of them a challenge to read comfortably.

As for ebooks they may offer convenience advantages for mobility but in my mind they are more disposable then newspapers. A week, month or years from now I will be able to retrieve and share a book I have acquired in a physical format. I seriously doubt the same will be able to be said for ebooks with constantly changing technologies and DRM limitations. Maintaining a personal digital library seems like a crapshoot at best.

Trade paperbacks are a reasonable alternative to hardcovers. As a last thought, some day we will all get old and I for one like to occasionally reread favourite books. Having the larger formats around means I won’t have to squint or get the magnifying glass out.

Mark @ Walker of Worlds: If I could have a book in any format I’d have to go with hardcover. They are a bit more awkward to read than paperback and take up more room, but they look excellent sitting on the shelf – and I love to show off my favourite books on mine! They’re not without their drawbacks – slanting spine, paper coming away from the boards and not forgetting the problems with a worn dustjacket – but I enjoy sitting down with a hefty novel. I must admit that in the past I’ve only ever bought books if they were hardback, in fact I’d go out of my way to get them in that format. I’m a perfectionist when it come to quite a lot of things, and mismatched books on my shelf just don’t cut it.

However, I’ve recently got to the point where I’ve run out of shelf space and am cursing myself for insisting on hardback books – you can only fit so many into a box. I’ve also been reading buying a lot more mass market paperbacks, whether the books aren’t published in hardback (damn you publishers!), I’m just trying to save some cash here and there, or that I’ve got the series to date in paperback and don’t want to mess up the aesthetics of my book shelf. I’ve also got reading paperback down to a fine art of not creasing the spine, which is my biggest pet hate of them all – I pay good money for what I read and I don’t want to wreck them by sloppy habits.

So, hardback first and then whatever will look the best on the shelf – trade paperback or mass market paperback – as much as I love the words inside, it needs to be presented the right way too.

Heather @ The Galaxy Express: I love this question because I’ve had a daydream for years now regarding the ideal format. Since I prefer to do much of my reading lying on my back, I’ve always thought it’d be nifty to read from a screen embedded in the ceiling or suspended from some kind of brass, spider-like steampunk contraption. I’d use a remote control–or, since this is fantasy speculation time, my thoughts–to advance each page.

Barring that, my preference would be an ebook. Much as I love having a great big rambling bookcase overflowing with novels, it’s become a challenge to store and lug them around every time I move. But even if I had a living space large enough to accommodate a sizeable library, I’m not feeling the collecting bug anymore (besides, I need room for my growing DVD collection, and they’re much slimmer).

Er…okay, so I’ve simply displaced my hoarding tendency, but I’ll bet even films will change formats once again into something that takes up even less space.

In an age of oversized portions and products, I’m ready to downsize. Ebooks mean more convenience and less clutter. I don’t have the time I once did for re-reading books, so it doesn’t make sense anymore to keep hanging on to them (aside from a hundred or so keeper titles).

Another reason is that epublishers like Samhain are increasingly delving into niche markets. Ebooks give readers access to stories they can’t purchase in print. So an e-reader would enable me to connect with the variety I seek in my favorite genres.

Plus, e-readers are less harmful for the environment. And for me, that’s the most important reason of all.

Neth @ Nethspace: For me, the best format for reading is trade paperback. The bigger size is more comfortable to handle while reading and the little bit of flexibility adds to that comfort. Though I must admit that I prefer having hardbacks on the bookshelf – I like the way they look and how they generally hold up better through time. The only thing I like about mass market paperback is the price.

Ebooks have a long way to go before I’ll adopt them. I don’t like reading on computer screens for long periods of time. I think ebook readers are coming along, but they still have some work to do to better imitate the reading experience. But format of ebooks is the worst – I hate proprietary format for each brand. This alone will keep me from purchasing a reader and utilizing ebooks. Let the format be open to all brands and readily available – until this is realized, the ebook will not succeed.

What about audiobooks? They certainly have their place – I love ’em for long drives

Dark Wolf @ Dark Wolf’s Fantasy Reviews: I would go with the hardcovers on the first place. I like a lot how they are looking on my bookshelves. I also like the hardcovers have jackets which means that if I accidentally damage the cover there is always the jacket that covers it (I had some bad accidents with coffee, but now I keep my coffee mug away from my books :)). In a perfect world however I would buy the hardcover for my personal library and the mass market for reading, but I still have to buy a ticket in order to win the lottery so my personal library is composed mainly in paperback books.

I don’t like a bit e-books or PDFs. I know that now the books come a lot in these formats but I like seeing the physical books, I like seeing them new or with those little damages left by reading and which give them a personal note. The electronic formats will never have that personal touch imprinted by the reader. I also like to look at the cover, sitting in my favorite rocking chair when I read with my coffee next to me, but away from the book 😉

[FYI: English is Dark Wolf’s second language, yet he blogs in it, even though he is Romanian. I’d say that is pretty impressive. His blog is also set up to be translatable into Romanian.]

Tia @ Fantasy Debut: I like trade paperbacks. The mass markets are often too thick to hold comfortably. Or the print is too small. Hardcovers are too heavy. Ebooks are out of my reach, at the moment.

You can fit entire trilogies in the Trade Paperback format. My copies of Dragonlance and The Deed of Paksenarrion are both trade paperback. They border on being too thick, but I’d rather have them as a trade paperback than as a hardcover. Now they do tend to wear out–I have replaced both of the above at least once. But somehow, I don’t mind. If a book gets reread often enough to tatter the book, then the author deserves to get the royalties from the extra sales.

Lisa @ Danger Gal: I prefer mass market paperbacks because the size fits perfectly in my hands no matter where I am and the price is right. I like that the mass market paperback size fits easily into whatever bag I might have with me. I find hard covers to be expensive, heavy, and unwieldy. I just plain can’t afford to support my reading habit if books cost me $25 or more. Hard covers are better for keepsakes, so I do own a few for special books I know I will re-read many times. I don’t really mind trade paperback, and will certainly buy one if that’s the only format available for a book I want to read, but since the mass market size is cheaper, that’s what I purchase if I have the choice. I’m not opposed to ebooks, in fact I can see how they might be very convenient at times, but I haven’t yet seen a reader that interests me. I’m still waiting to see which reader pulls ahead of the pack before purchasing one.

Thea @ The Book Smugglers: I’m a huge proponent of hardcover books. I’m a sloppy reader and with paperbacks I end up breaking the spine or sitting on and folding over the cover or something. Hardcover books last longer, they’re more sturdy, and…well, they’re just prettier. The only drawback? The price tag. Which, ultimately, is why I have far more paperbacks on my bookshelf than hardcovers.

I’m also a fan of trade paperbacks, since they are somewhat more sturdy than their mass market siblings. My Dark Tower books are all in trade paperback format, which is the only reason why I think they’re still in one piece (but again, I’m going to have to repurchase all of them in hardcover soon).

So far as E-books go, until recently, they were a huge pain in the ass (I simply cannot read lengthy books off the computer screen, and sneaking off covert print copies at work is nerve-wracking, not to mention job-threatening!). I have a reader now which definitely makes things easier. I love the convenience of E-books…but it’s just not the same as having the print version in your hands, hearing the rustle of the pages, smelling the book smell.

Alice @ Sandstorm Reviews: The choice of formats is a tricky one – ideally, I’d like to say hardbacks, because they’re prettier, more durable and the author makes more money from them… but they take up so much space, and they’re so heavy! I think I’d actually prefer it if all books were only issued in (decent quality) paperback format, so I wouldn’t have to spend vast amounts of money on newly-released ones that I couldn’t wait a year for, I wouldn’t have to destroy my back by carrying them on the train, and there’d be so much more room in the bookcase. I know, I’m a philistine.

As for ebooks, I’m really not fond of reading from a screen, so until they bring out an ebook reader that is affordable and non-proprietory, I’m sticking to real books.

Liz @ My Favourite Books: Personally I am a mass paperback-girl, purely because it is so easy to slip into your bag if you are commuting, which seems to be what I do for most of my life. Also, you can fit more paperbacks on your already crammed bookshelf. There is also cost involved – paperbacks are a lot less expensive than hardbacks and your heart doesn’t have to break when you accidentally spill hot chocolate on a paperback or manage to drop it in the bath.

Having said that, I do have a lovely selection of favourite books in both hardback and paperback. The hardbacks are my collectors editions which I may have read, very carefully, when they were first published. My paperbacks are my mucky children I can take anywhere or lend to anyone. I buy hardbacks of favourite novelists like Charles de Lint and Neil Gaiman and David Gemmell – I don’t mind paying the extra cash, to be honest, as in these instances I know they are sort of an “investment”.

I’m not a big fan of the trade paperbacks. I find them, not necessarily bulky, but not very easy to read – unwieldy is a word I will use here. Price again is an issue – I find that trade paperbacks end up looking worse for the wear much faster than paperbacks, purely because they are not that easy to cart about.

E-books…personally, I can see the argument from both sides of the spectrum. I appreciate that if you travel long distances and for many hours, e-books are a good investment. I recently read an article by an agent where she managed to read a few chapters on a new clients’ work whilst standing on the Underground. That is pretty coo and proves the handiness of ebooks and e-readers. But, having said that, there is something satisfying about having your paperback in your hand as you are lazing by the pool on holiday. I don’t like reading things on screen and even if I did get an e-reader, I’d end up printing pages off to read – which defeats the purpose!

SMD @ The World in the Satin Bag: I’d probably choose mass market paperback even though I find the printing quality in trade paperbacks or hardcovers of superior quality. Mass markets, though, allow me to feel like I’ve accomplished something when reading. My problem with the larger formats is that sometimes the publishers use small typefaces. When you can only read 30 pages of a 500-page book in an hour, well, it’s sort of discouraging. I like feeling like I’m progressing when reading. Mass markets are also cheaper, which is good for my wallet. I can buy two mass market books for the price of one trade paperback, or three for the price of one hardcover. That means I get more to read for my dollar, which is also good for my wallet.

But if we were in a perfect world where everything was my way, then I suppose I’d have a few more hardcovers or trade paperbacks with the jagged page edges (because I really like those). In my perfect world those would be really cheap. But then again, such a perfect world
would mean all the publishers would go out of business, writers would make even less money, and I would have far too many books for my own good. I love books, but too many is actually a bad thing. You run out of room real quick when you buy a lot of books!

Read also this excellent essay on how publishers make their decision about whether to print a book in paperback or hardback.