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One thing I've noticed while browsing bookstores is that hardcover books tend to cost more than softcover ones.

Oftentimes a hardcover book that's five times the price of a paperback doesn't have five times the mass of one.

Is it the manufacturing technique that creates this price difference?

Why do hardcover books retail for multiple times the amount of softcover books?

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migrated from literature.stackexchange.com Apr 26 '12 at 21:50

Because they cost more to make? –  Cryst Aug 10 '11 at 11:06
Because hard cover books can be kept for longer time and soft cover books may get torn within a short span of time..:) –  Sweet72 Sep 16 '13 at 15:11

6 Answers 6

up vote 22 down vote accepted

This article shows an example breakdown of the costs involved in making a hardcover book:

Based on a list price of $27.95

$3.55 - Pre-preduction - This amount covers editors, graphic designers, and the like
$2.83 - Printing - Ink, glue, paper, etc
$2.00 - Marketing - Book tour, NYT Book Review ad, printing and shipping galleys to journalists
$2.80 - Wholesaler - The take of the middlemen who handle distribution for publishers
$4.19 - Author Royalties - A bestseller like Grisham will net about 15% in royalties, lesser known authors get less. Also the author will be paying a slice of this pie piece to his agent, publicist, etc.

This leaves $12.58, Money magazine calls this the profit margin for the retailer, however when was the last time you saw a bestselling novel sold at its cover price.

Salon.com also has an interesting post on what makes books cost as much as they do. According to that article, the physical cost of the book comes from the quality of paper, the printing, and the binding. That accounts for about 20% of the book's final price. The rest covers the publisher's other costs (editing staff, promotions, etc.), distribution costs, and booksellers' profit. The author also gets a cut - typically around 10% or 15% of the price.

There are other considerations in book pricing, but they seem to have more to do with how the bookselling industry works than with the book format, so I'm omitting them here. The Salon article goes into more details, though, and there is also some interesting information here about hardcover pricing if you look past the political bent of some of the comments.

I wasn't able to find a detailed breakdown of the costs involved in making a paperback, so I looked at lulu.com - a self-publishing service - to get a ballpark figure. I ran their manufacturing price calculator on roughly the same parameters.

For a paperback, I used 100 pages of standard paper, black & white printing, US Trade size (6" x 9"), bound with the "perfect bound" binding. The manufacturing cost on that came out to US $6.50 per book.

For a hardcover, I used the same parameters except for binding. With casewrap binding, the cost was US $15 per book and including a dust jacket bumped that up to US $16.

So it seems to me that if we assume that marketing and distribution costs are roughly the same for all types of books, the production costs would account for a good part of the price discrepancy.

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Your analysis covers the cost difference. The OP was asking about the price difference. When a hardback is priced at $40 and the paperback at $8 (1 year later) the main difference is because the hardback has come out earlier. In particular, from wikipedia, "Hardcover books are also marginally more expensive to manufacture and usually much more so to purchase." (emphasis added) –  Kirk Woll Aug 10 '11 at 4:30
@Kirk Wikipedia's assertion isnt't supported by anything (unless I'm misreading it, which is possible). My analysis could be wrong too, but I think it'd take either a better analysis or a more definitive source to say for sure. –  Anna Lear Aug 10 '11 at 12:07
I've gotta disagree with this, not because of the math or anything. The reason hardcover books cost more is because they are the first to be published, the reason they are the first to be published is because they can drive a higher price point. Trades and Mass Market come later to appeal to people who choose not to buy the more expensive book. This was all described to me by my boss at Waldenbooks 10 years ago and I don't imagine this part of the industry has changed all that much, even though many of the major players are bankrupt. –  Peter Turner Aug 10 '11 at 14:26
Also, hardcovers don't on average retail for much more than trades after a few years. Bookstores often need to get these off their shelves and will offer huge discounts. You only pay 3x for hardcover books when they're new - or online where shelving isn't as big a deal. Unless the book is extremely popular (i.e. Harry Potter) you rarely see trades and hardbacks of the same book next to each other on any given bookstore shelf, even though they are published within a year of each other. –  Peter Turner Aug 10 '11 at 14:32
@Peter Yeah, that's where things get complicated. Some books are never released in paperback (trade or mass market), some are never released in hardcover, some get heavily discounted to get people in the door, etc. I was trying to keep the comparison as simple as possible, although I realize that that might be trivializing it a lot. –  Anna Lear Aug 10 '11 at 14:37

My take on this is "because they can".

Hardcover books are pain to carry and it annoys me that hardcover books are always published first and that softcover books are published 6 months to a year later.

For example Unseen Academicals by Sir Terry Pratchett

  • Hardcover cost £10.99 released 1 Oct 2009
  • Mass Market Paperback cost £5 released 10 Jun 2010

I think publishers do this to maximise the return on a book and increase the shelf life of a book.

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Welcome to Literature! This is really a comment, not an answer. We are looking for answers that don't just state an opinion but also back it up with facts or references. With a bit more rep, you will be able to post comments. Can you edit this post to add some factual information? Thanks! –  Anna Lear Aug 25 '11 at 13:55

Since many books are written based on an advance to the author from the publisher, I imagine there's also a component of them trying to regain that advance earlier in the sales cycle.

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In addition to the other answers, there's also a price discrimination component. A product is optimally priced at the intersection of its supply and demand curves, but of course, there are always people who are willing to pay more than the market price. People who are willing to pay more are often offered nicer products that give them the excuse to spend the extra money. The book market is no exception.

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An excellent point - I was going to say somewhat the same thing, but didn't know the correct term for it. –  TML Aug 11 '11 at 0:43
+1. Hardcover books cost so much more because people will pay so much more. –  Matthew Read Aug 11 '11 at 18:45
"Yup. "Segmentation of the market" they call it. And they will ignore sunk costs and segment all the way down to the marginal production cost (which for e-books, can be very low indeed) if the demand slackens. –  dmckee Feb 23 '12 at 23:26

I would imagine because they're bigger, heavier, of higher quality, etc. edit: i stated this because production costs would be higher, the shipping/transportation costs are higher, the storage and shelving cost is higher. also hard backs seem, to me, to last longer.

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Because the hardcover books come out sooner than the paperback books. It's like the difference between a movie being released in the theaters and coming out on DVD. In both cases, you pay to get it early.

Though hardcover books are of higher quality, I doubt the manufacturing costs play a significant role in the price difference.

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Do you have any links to cost analysis that backs that up? We want Stack Exchange to be a source of factual information backed up by references and experience, not just opinions. Thanks! –  Anna Lear Aug 10 '11 at 1:43
Citations are nice, and I would provide it if I could. Lack of such doesn't actually make an answer incorrect. (Nor is it by any means required on SE sites.) –  Kirk Woll Aug 10 '11 at 4:34
It is potentially incorrect if you are guessing. A citation would make it a better answer. You are right in saying no proof is required, but it's always a strong "nice to have". –  Anna Lear Aug 10 '11 at 12:11
This is the reason, anyone who has ever worked at a bookstore knows it. First you get the hardcover, then you get the trade paper, then you get the mass market paperback. –  Peter Turner Aug 10 '11 at 13:25

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