Monday, March 17, 2008

Paper, please!

Successful books are usually released in paperback roughly a year or two from their original publication in hardcover. Sometimes, it takes longer. And sometimes, paperback editions are never released.

Paperback books are important for several reasons. They’re lighter (makes a difference when you’re lugging tons of books around). They travel better. And, they’re cheaper… usually a third the price of a hardcover book. Quality paperbacks last longer than you’d think. I have some well-loved ones from my childhood that I’m currently reading with my son.

Here are several popular children's books and series that are currently available only in hardcover with no plans (that I know of) for paperback versions. As a children’s bookseller at an independent store, I get asked for one of the books below in paperback at least once a day.

The Mercy Watson series by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Chris Van Dusen. Published by Candlewick Press.

This is an early reader series… and books in this genre usually sell for $4 to $6. The Mercy Watson books sell for $13 each. As beautifully produced as the books are, most people aren’t willing to pay that much for early readers. Books in this series include:

The Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborne, illustrated by Sal Murdocca. Published by Random House.

Books 1-28 of this series have been released in paperback. So have books 33-36. But for some reason, the following books are still only available in hardcover. I get asked for the paperback versions of these Magic Tree House titles more than any other books on this list. Books in hardcover only:

The Bear series by Karma Wilson, illustrated by Jane Chapman. Published by Simon and Schuster.

This is a wonderful picture book series for the 3-5 year old crowd that I wish were in paperback. A few titles are available as board books, but they’re really too lengthy for babies. Books in this series include:

If You Give A…. series by Laura Numeroff, illustrated by Felicia Bond. Published by Laura Geringer Books, an imprint of HarperCollins.

These titles have been released as board books, as books and CD combinations, as collections, as oversized books and in Spanish, but not as paperbacks. The first one was published in 1985. Please, oh, please, the time has come to put these books in paperback. Books in this series include:

The Click Clack, Moo series by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Betsy Lewin. Published by Simon & Schuster.

This is a very funny series of books that unfortunately are only in hardcover. I attended the White House Easter Egg Roll last year, and was impressed to hear Duck for President being read aloud by Lynne Cheney. It's nice to see that Duck has finally made it to the White House. Books in this series include:

Moose and Hildy by Stephanie Greene, illustrated by Joe Mathieu. Published by Marshall Cavendish.

You may have not heard of these, but you should. The Moose and Hildy books are a series of funny early chapter books that are unfortunately only available in hardcover. The first book originally appeared as a picture book, and I applaud the publisher for repackaging it as an early reader. I wish they could go one step further and release these books in paperback. Books in this series include:

Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! and Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale by Mo Willems. Published by Hyperion. Actually, there are currently no Mo Willems books available commercially in paperback. I really wish there were.

And here’s some excellent news. As I was making this list, I originally put at the top Toys Go Out, a lovely early chapter book by Emily Jenkins. But I just saw that the book is in fact being released in paperback in September 2008, and there’s also a sequel appearing at the same time.

Wait a second, you say. You’ve seen some of the books listed above in paperback… you’re sure of it. Yes, you’re right. Some of these titles have been produced in cheap paperback editions for Scholastic book fairs. But, these versions are flimsy and not available commercially to bookstores.

I'm sure there a lot of reasons why the books I’ve mentioned haven't appeared in paperback. They probably have to do with budgets, artistic issues, the price of manufacturing the books, and many other things. But, as a bookseller, all I see is the books getting put back on the shelf repeatedly because they’re too expensive. Maybe if the publishers knew how many times this happens with books that would be flying off the shelves otherwise, it might upset them as much as it upsets me.

Of course, if I ruled the world, all books would simultaneously appear in hardcover and paperback. Wouldn't that be lovely?


  1. I'm sure the number one reason is money because it always comes down to that. And with classic or favorite children's books, there is a longer shelf life and a higher profit margin. Could be the only-one-cup-of-coffee cynic in me speaking this morning.

  2. That's definitely the reason. But, if paperback versions of these titles sold at 4 to 5 times the rate the hardcovers editions sell (and I really think they would) then the publisher would actually be making more money in the long term.

  3. When I worked at a bookstore, the non-existent paperbacks I was always asked for were A Series of Unfortunate Events and The Spiderwick Chronicles. This was several years ago, so maybe they've since been released in pb, but it was so frustrating!

  4. This frustrates authors, too. Many times an author will not sell through their advance when a book is in hardcover and must wait until the book is in paperback to start receiving royalties. That can be tough when it takes two years for a book to go to paperback and you're counting on that money!

  5. Responding to Abby, A Series of Unfortunate Events, at least, is *finally* coming out in paperback. They've already released the first couple. It's definitely about time! The hardcovers don't even do well as library books because of whatever weird old-fashioned-looking binding job they did on them. They end up in tatters so quickly.

  6. Abby- the Lemony Snicket books were the bane of my existence when I was a bookseller at a different store a few years ago. As Lisa said, thankfully, the first three have finally been released in paperback. What a relief!

    Spiderwick is still in hardcover... but they're $10 each, so not too much more than a paperback.

    Caroline- I didn't realize that. Thanks so much for giving the author's perspective!

    Lisa- The binding on the Lemony Snicket books is kind of funky, I agree. They do look cool, though.

  7. When I first discovered the His Dark Materials series, they were already in paperback but were still firmly in the YA sphere. Since they were YA editions, they were so cheap (much cheaper than usual paperbacks sold in the adult lit section), and I purchased them to read while I was on vacation abroad. Like you said, lighter load when you're lugging a lot. I bet that they are now more expensive since they're marketed directly to adults.

  8. Jody-
    The His Dark Materials books are currently available in tons of different editions. I found this out the hard way when the movie was released and the demand for the books skyrocketed. I was constantly reordering the trilogy for my store, and I had to make sure to get the right Golden Compass (or at least, the same edition as the other books in the series we had in stock).

    The cheap paperbacks are still available (they're called mass market paperbacks) and so are the nicer paperbacks (they're called trade paperbacks). How many times can I use the word paperback in one sentence? A lot, apparently.

  9. A pet peeve of mines is when I tell a customer a book is not in paperback, and they don't believe me, so than I do a computer search, sometimes they still don't believe me. They just stand there looking at me like there's a printing press in the stockroom
    I am glad they stop making The Harry Potter and Artemis Fowl series in MM, the QP size are much better
    Does anyone know when New Moon well be released in QP


  10. Um. Susan, I *own* paperback versions of both Click Clack Moo and Giggle Giggle Quack, and have seen a paperback version of Duck for President. I'll be happy to bring them with me for proof when we finally get around to returning Mrs. Pigglewiggle :)

    I got them at children's book fairs through school/daycare. Could it be Scholastic prints some things for book fairs that they don't produce for bookstores?


  11. Amen on the weird gap in the Magic Tree House paperbacks.

    I'm grateful that they finally decided to put the Snickets out in PB.

  12. Thanks to your Kidlitosphere post, I found your plea for Paperbacks. I guess there must have been something in the air on St. Patrick's Day. I wrote a similar piece, but with a literacy spin that same day. Check out a Plea for Paperbacks

  13. Earthiegirl- I know what you mean. It can be very frustrating.

    Jim- I own a paperback of Click Clack Moo too that I bought at a used book sale. It's printed by Scholastic, and only available through bookfairs. Bookstores can't buy them (and wouldn't want to)- they're less sturdy than traditional paperbacks. If you have Click Clack Moo in paperback published by Simon & Schuster... that I've got to see!

    Adrienne- I wholeheartedly agree with you on both points. And I'm glad to know that I'm not the only one who's noticed the weird gap in the Magic Treehouse books.

    Terry- that's so interesting that we both wrote about the same thing on the same day! Your post was great- I totally agree.