Hardcover vs Paperback: Basic Differences

  • Post last modified:October 22, 2022

Ah, yes–hardcover vs paperback. The age-old debate.

Hardcover vs Paperback: My Opinion

A stack of book spines sits beneath a windowsill with a jar of coffee. A string of lights are draped overtop.

My personal preference in the hardcover vs paperback debate? I prefer paperback, but if it is an author I love to support, I go ahead and buy their new releases in hardback when I have the money, just because I want to add to those release week sales. Ditto if it’s a title I just can’t wait to get my hands on.

Y’all might know that I like to annotate and doodle in my books, and I don’t know what it is about a hardcover book that just makes me feel like it must be kept pristine. A paperback, on the other hand, feels like it is meant to be well-loved (a.k.a. destroyed by being toted around at the bottom of my bag with a leaky pen for a week). There’s also the added bonus of paperbacks being way cheaper, which my wallet prefers.

However, I will say that some of the most beautiful books I own are copies from the Folio Society, which I kinda wish I hadn’t been introduced to in my youthful, broke era. They are unreasonably gorgeous, illustrated editions made in London and are fabulous gifts, FYI.

But, if you would prefer to hear more on the subject than just my opinion, let me give you some more facts and answer some of the most-asked questions about the hardcover vs paperback teams.

What is the difference between paperback and hardcover?

Physically, the difference is just what it sounds like: Hardcover books have hard covers, and paperback have thin, bendy covers. Hardcover books are thicker thanks to their cardboard covers and slightly more durable pages. Their covers are also slightly wider than the actual pages of the book, overhanging and keeping the pages between a little safer. Hardback books are meant to last, and are usually the ones collectors go for.

What is a dust jacket?

Most hardcovers also come with a dust jacket, which is a paper wrap that covers the cardboard pieces and can be removed.

If you’re in the UK, sometimes the paper wraps are also covered in plastic.

How are hardcover books made?

Hardcover books tend to be

How are paperback books made?

Paperback books are cheaper to make than hardback, and generally, they can be divided into two tiers: mass market paperbacks and trade paperbacks. Trade paperbacks are what you’re likely to pick up at a bookstore, and mass market are the slightly less-well made and flimsier, smaller versions you can find at airports and grocery store checkout lines.

Why do hardcover books come out before paperback?

In the US, this is the most common process. On a book’s initial release date, it is released solely as a hardback, mainly because it is more expensive and alluring to collectors because of the quality. You also get the rush of buyers who just can’t wait to purchase the book and don’t mind paying extra to have it as soon as possible. The paperback will typically be released a year after the hardback–this is usually when the initial sales of the hardback have died down, and titles stand to gain a second wind when readers who didn’t buy the first time around are tempted by the lower prices.

The UK also publishes hardbacks, but they tend to be more conservative and only produce them for bigger releases. It is much more common here to find a paperback version out on release day (which personally I love, because like I said, I prefer paperback and paying a bit less).

What about large print editions?

One exception to this rule is large print editions. Those tend to be larger, paperback versions, and for the sake of accessibility, come out the same day as the normal hardback. A lot of people actually buy the large print edition just because they prefer paperback and can’t wait for the normal paperback release, though I have never actually tried this. Occasionally, you will see BOOK TITLE (LARGE PRINT EDITION) show up on bestseller lists–some authors have even admitted to their large print editions selling more copies than the hardcover. (I can’t find the tweet now to link it, but John Green has talked about this phenomena before.) I guess that’s paperback dedication for you.

Why are hardcover books more expensive?

Hardcover books are almost always more expensive–a general rule of thumb is that they are double the cost of their paperback counterparts. In the US, that tends to mean anywhere from $20 to $25 for a standard hardback edition. Paperbacks usually hover somewhere around $10.

The reason for this is simple: hardcover books take more resources to make. They are the nicest version of the book that will be released, made with better material and more durable than the paperback.

Are hardcover books recyclable?

Sometimes–but the general consensus is to err on the side of caution and don’t if there is a question. They can be difficult because of the glue used in their binding, so check with your recycling center before you try. An alternative is donating them to a charity or used bookshop.

That’s it for now! Hopefully you’ve learned all about the hardcover vs paperback debate by now! Have other questions I didn’t answer here? Feel free to ask below in the comments or shoot me a message!

Still curious about book production? Check out my article on what remainder marks are and why you should look for them when buying books.


Hardcover vs paperback: the guide Pinterest post

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