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Hardcover or Paperback? A Guide to Help You Figure Out Which Book Format to Buy

Matt Berry By Matt Berry Published on February 15, 2018

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Do you love reading, but don't know which book format to pick up? Can't tell your paperbacks from your quarterbacks? Here are some definitions to help guide you through the sometimes nebulous world of book formats. Whether you're reading on the subway or ensconced in your favorite reading nook, this guide should help you find exactly the right book for the right occasion.

Oh, and there will be a test afterward, but don't worry, it's "open-book" (see what I did there?).


A book will usually begin its life as a hardcover, otherwise known as a hardback, hardbound, or case-bound, a format with a rigid, non-bendable cover. If a publisher thinks that a book is going to be popular, they'll release it as a hardcover first before moving on to paperback, but if they think that sales might be low, or if the author is a newbie, they may go straight to paperback. More expensive than softcovers or other editions, they often come with dust jackets, removable paper covers designed to protect the book. Like little, um, jackets for your books. Which is actually kind of cute when you think about it.

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Example of a hardcover book | Bookwitty


Paperbacks are usually the next stage of a book's life. Much cheaper to print, and consequently sold at a lower price than hardcovers, these are soft covered books with much smaller dimensions. In the US, they generally fall into two categories: 

Trade Paperback

Usually, about a year after a hardcover is released, the publisher will put out the book in the trade paperback format. Soft, bendable covers, they are larger and thicker than the other paperback edition listed below. Avid readers often prefer these editions, since the cover and design is usually a little nicer, more in line with the hardcover format.

Mass-Market Paperback

Often released to extend the lifespan of popular books after the trade paperback edition has been published, mass-market paperbacks are the smaller books that you're used to seeing in airports and pharmacies. Lots of first-time author's debuts and genre fiction books go straight to the mass-market format. Printed on cheaper paper, with less of an emphasis on what the book looks like, they may not be the prettiest, but they're usually the cheapest and smallest, which make them ideal to slip into a crowded suitcase or backpack.

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Example of a paperback book | Bookwitty

In the UK, paperback book formats are a little different. They fall into three categories:

A Format: These are usually about the same size as the standard US mass-market paperback.

B Format: A little bigger than A, on par with the size of a large US mass-market paperback or a small trade paperback.

C Format: The biggest of the UK bunch, usually about the size of a standard US trade paperback.

Of course, there are small size variations within the formats, but those are the broad strokes. No matter what kind of reader you are, there's a format out there that will suit your needs. Or if you're not interested in print at all, and want to dive into e-books, you can check out more info here.


Book lover, movie buff. Marketing copywriter for Bookwitty. A cat-person, a dog-person, and a person-person.

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