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The Difference Between Paperback vs. Mass Market Paperback

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If you are interested in the difference between paperback vs. mass market paperback books, this post tells you exactly that. I often wondered the difference myself when shopping on Amazon for books and felt confused as to which option to purchase.

In short, paperback books are larger, higher quality, and most expensive, whereas mass market paperback books are smaller, with less durability but a lower price. The biggest difference to me is legibility: traditional paperback books are both larger and spaced greater between the lines, so they are much easier on your eyes.

Get everything you need to know about the difference between paperback vs. mass market paperback below.

What is Paperback?

A paperback (or, trade paperback) book has a softcover board with a thick paper or paperboard cover. Paperback books are glued together instead of being stapled or stitched together, like a hardcover book. The pages inside a paperback book are usually made of high quality, acid-free paper.

Publishers release paperback books when they want to offer a lower-cost format of a particular title than a hardcover book, which is more durable over the long term but also more expensive. The profit margin is, therefore, smaller for paperback books versus hardcover books.

Paperback books can be published because the author is less popular and thus, readers may be less likely to purchase a more expensive hardcover book. Or, paperback books may be published to provide fans of a popular book with a less expensive option. For example, paperback editions of the bestselling Harry Potter books and Jane Austen books are available.

If the publication of a paperback edition of a title follows the publication of a hardcover edition by the same publisher, the pages are usually identical in print to those in the hardcover edition, and the paperback book is usually close to the same size as the hardcover edition. However, paperbacks may lack extra content, such as forewords and illustrations.

The cover art of a paperback book may or may not differ from the hardcover book.

The standard paperback size is about five or six inches wide by eight or nine inches high.

Some paperback books have a "French flap." This means that the front and back cover have a folded section behind the cover, like a dust jacket on a hardcover book. The purpose is only to make the paperback book look more like a hardcover book, but at a lower cost. However, I sometimes like to use it as a bookmark!

Further, paperback books are popular in the non fiction genre.

Most advanced review copies (ARCs) of books sent to book critics for review prior to the publication of a book are also printed in paperback format, as it is less expensive than printing hardcover book, but still a higher quality than the lower quality mass market paperback books (which are discussed in detail below).

While a paperback book can be more prone to damage than a hardcover book, a paperback book is easier to tote around than a hardcover book, and it can be protected with a book sleeve, which is a handmade foam and fabric pocket for a book that can be found in a variety of styles on Etsy.

Trade paperbacks are larger and more durable, and mass market paperbacks, which are discussed in greater detail below, are smaller and less durable.

Mass Market Paperback Definition

Mass market paperback books can be defined as smaller, less durable paperback books with a thick paper or paperboard cover. The pages inside are made of lower-quality paper, and they are generally not illustrated.

Mass market paperbacks are often released after the hardcover edition is released, and they are often sold in non-traditional locations, such as airports, drugstores, newsstands, and grocery stores.

(However, a book may have hardcover, paperback and/or mass market market publications.)

Popular genres for mass market paperbacks are the classics, romance, mystery, suspense, and thrillers. They are meant to be purchased on impulse and/or to be more widely available to the general public.

Since they are published "in mass," mass market book publication may be reserved for the most popular titles and authors.

Some mass market paperback books have "strippable" covers by which the seller or distributor can strip the cover from the book and return it to the publisher for a refund or credit if it is not sold. This costs less in return postage, and the remainder of the book is then recycled.

Note that “Non-strippable” books may only be returned to the publisher by the seller or distributor if the book cover is completely intact.

Self-publishers often publish their books in paperback and/or mass market paperback form for cost savings.

However, the rising popularity of e-books that can be purchased at low cost or borrowed for free from the library has threatened the market for mass market paperback books.

Mass Market Paperback Size

The standard mass market paperback size is four inches wide by six or seven inches high. They are lighter and thinner than standard trade paperback books. The font inside may also be smaller in order to keep the overall size of the book very small.

Mass market paperback books are made smaller in order to fit into spinning racks at non-traditional locations, like airports.

The Difference Between Paperback vs. Mass Market Paperback

The difference between paperback vs. mass market paperback books is further described below in a table that makes it easy for you to see what is similar and what is different.

PaperbackMass Market Paperback
Coverthick paper or paperboard cover thick paper or paperboard cover
Durabilitymore durableless durable
Pageshigher quality paper, such as acid-free, pages that will not discolor or fadelower quality wood pulp paper pages that may discolor and/or fade
Bindingglue bindingglue binding
Sizebigger size overall (five to six inches by six to nine inches in the United States)smaller size overall (four by six or seven inches in the United States)
Fontbigger font sizesmaller font size
Space between linesbigger space between linessmaller space between lines
Weightmore heavyless heavy
Pricehigher pricelower price
Retailerstraditional, such as bookstoresnon-traditional, such as airports, drugstores, and grocery stores
Distributorentities in the book publishing tradeperiodical or magazine entities
Distributionlibraries and traditional retailersnon-traditional, such as airports, drugstores, newsstands, and grocery stores
BarcodeUPC barcodeEAN barcode
Also known astrade paperbackpocketbook or pocket edition

Also of note, in the United Kingdom, paperbacks come in three sizes: "A," which is about 4.33" by 7.01" and similar to mass market paperbacks; "B," which is 5.12" x 7.8" and similar to a small trade paperback book; and "C," which is 5.32" x 8.51" and similar to a standard trade paperback book.

If you're still unsure whether to purchase a paperback or mass market paperback book, I can offer some practical advice:

  • If price is your main concern and/or the book is really short and easy to read fast, I recommend that you a purchase mass market paperback book.
  • And if price is not your main concern and/or the book is longer, I recommend that you purchase a paperback book. The larger size makes it MUCH easier on your eyes, and it will both last longer and be worth more upon any resale you may intend.

Now you know the difference between paperback vs. mass market paperback books.

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