What is a Paperback Book and How it Became So Popular?

What is a paperback cover image

We’ve all seen them, in school, shops, shelves, scholastic fairs, etc. Books have been an integral part of human culture for millennia. But what if I told you that the most commonly seen books, paperback books have been in existence for only less than a century. Today, we see what is a paperback book and what makes them so great. And how come we started loving these paperback books more than the very premium and well-made hardback books. 

Paperback books, as the name suggests, are book with a thick paper cover. The cover of these books is made of thin cardboard with a plastic coating on the outer side. They are flexible, light, and small compared to hardcover books. Since they are made of cheaply available materials, paperback books are very cheap.

The pages in paperback books are bound differently than in hardbacks. Instead of strong stitching, the pages are just glued together. This speeds up the process of manufacturing and reduces cost. But it costs the quality of binding. Often, paperback books have low-quality pages to keep the cost low. 

There are many names given to paperback books, “paperback” being the most common. This book format is also known as softcover, paperbound, softback, pocket back, handbook, yellowback, mass-market, trade back, etc. There are several versions of paperback based on the place where they are sold. There are railway paperbacks, airport paperbacks, trade paperback (paperback books sold at general shops).

The varieties of paperback books have different dimensions. We shall be focusing on mass-market paperback and normal paperback books since railways and airport paperbacks are not distinct anymore (both mass-market and general paperback are sold at these stations).

Crime and punishment paperback edition
A high quality paperback edition

Here are the general dimensions of different types of paperback books: 

Mass market paperbacks are one of the smallest sized books. They come in a dimension of 4.3 inches x 6.8 inches.

Trade paperbacks or the ones that you see commonly on the shelves of the bookstores. These are larger, much better in build quality (both cover and pages). And these books cost more than the mass market paperback. The dimensions for this book format is 6 inches x 9 inches. This is the most common size found in the US. You can also find a smaller version of this format of size 5.5 inches x 8.5 inches. 

The old railways/airport book format was very much like mass market paperback, ranging from 4 inches x 6 inches to 4.4 inches x 6.5 inches. The reason for that was to make it easier for the readers to carry it in hand luggage and be as cheap as possible. 

Not that it’s needed, but still relevant to the topic; The size of hardcover books ranges from 6.8 inches x 9.3 inches to 8.5 inches x 11 inches. 

Not just the book format but the content of the book can influence the size of the paperback. For example, fiction books have a dimension of this range: 

4.3 inches x 6.8 inches, 5 inches x 8 inches, 5.2 inches x 8 inches, 5.5 inches x 8.5 inches, 6 inches x 9 inches. 

The Witcher mass market paperback edition
A mass market paperback edition

Here is the dimension of paperback books based on the genres of the story:

  • Non-fiction: 5.5″ x 8.5″, 6″ x 9″, 7″ x 10″
  • Children’s: 7.5″ x 7.5″, 7″ x 10″, 10″ x 8″
  • Textbooks: 6″ x 9″, 7″ x 10″, 8.5″ x 11″
  • Novella: 5″ x 8″
  • Memoir: 5.25″ x 8″, 5.5″ x 8.5″
  • Comics: 6.6” x 10”
  • Manga: 9.8” x 13.8” (Professional Japanese)
  • Magazine: 8.5” x 11”

Advantages of paperback books 

There are some great advantages to paperback books. There’s a reason why this format sells way more than the much more premium hardback editions. So here are the reasons why paperbacks are great for readers:

  • Easier to read 
  • Flexible 
  • Light to carry
  • Can be folded (RIP spine)
  • Very cheap 
  • Take lesser space
  • New authors’ works are released in paperback first 
  • Easier to handle 
  • Can be read anywhere
  • Widely available 

If you want, you can read an entire article we wrote earlier comparing hardcover books with paperback books with the advantages and disadvantages of both. Click here to read that article. These advantages of the paperback were the reason it became so popular and even crossed hardback in the overall reading experience.

The hobbit book, a paperback
A normal paperback edition

So this was all about paperback books. We specifically stayed away from getting into the history of paperback books and how they were popularized by Penguin, etc, etc. We did not want this article to turn into a history lesson. Hope you liked it and was helpful. You can read more articles related to this topic here:

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