Why are all the LDS fiction books I’ve ever seen published in trade paperback format and why do they cost thirteen or fourteen or even more dollars? Can you tell me something about the reasoning behind this? For the most part, at least that I’ve seen, mainstream fiction is published in “regular” paperback format and costs considerably less, which is very tempting when you want more books for your reading bucks. I’d love to read more LDS fiction, but I just can’t afford to buy everything that looks good, so I have to pick and choose very carefully, often having to pass over several tempting offers….Will any LDS publisher ever switch over to the smaller and cheaper paperback format?
I don’t know anything about economics, but I suppose this would probably affect the royalties that the authors would get, at least in the short term. On the other hand, wouldn’t it encourage more people to buy more books and therefore have a positive impact on the royalties in the long term?
–Budget Book Buyer
Let’s start with a quick review for readers who may not be familiar with some of the terminology. Generally, a book is first published in hardback. Hardbacks are considered to be a long-term investment intended for personal libraries. They are built to last through many readings. They are well bound, printed on high quality paper, and expensive.
After the hardback is released, the book comes out in “trade paperback.” Trades are printed on nice paper with a heavy paper cover. They can be nearly the same size as the hardback or as small as a 5.25 x 8″. For most readers, the quality is adequate for their personal libraries but not nearly as expensive as the hardback. Sometimes a book will skip the hardback printing and go straight to trade paperback.
If a book does really well, it will also be released as a “mass market paperback” (what you called “regular”). These editions are smaller than a trade, have a thinner paper cover and are printed on thinner newsprint-type paper. They are considered “throw-away” books–being made from inferior materials which start to fall apart after the second or third reading. Mass market books are cheaper because they are printed in “massive” quantities. A mainstream publisher will not offer this format unless the book is selling really, really well in the other two formats.
Now to your question of why LDS books are in trade and not mass market formats–it has nothing to do with royalties.
The quick answer is mainstream (as in large, national/international) publishers have a broader consumer base than us small, niche LDS publishers do. A good mainstream title will sell over a million copies. A good LDS title will sell a couple hundred thousand. If you’re selling a million copies, you can spread them over several formats and still have large enough print runs to get a very low price per book.
A small mainstream print run is in the tens of thousands. A small LDS print run may only be 2,000. They’re paying $1 or less per book; we’re paying $2-$3 per book.
We have to be able to build in a certain profit margin between the cost to produce the book and its retail price. We need to discount it to the retailers, cover the cost of distribution, advertising, overhead, royalties, etc. If the profit margin isn’t big enough, we can’t afford to produce the book.
In the small print runs that most LDS books sell in, there is just not enough profit margin to support multiple formats, so we have to pick one. Hardbacks are expensive and harder to sell. Mass markets fall apart and are only cheaper than trades when printed in very large quantities. So that leaves the standard LDS trade format as a nice compromise–it gives you a level of quality for a price that most consumers will accept.
Will LDS publishers ever switch over to the smaller, cheaper paperbacks? Yes, as soon as our consumer base supports large concurrent print runs in multiple formats.