Robert J. Sawyer

Hugo and Nebula Award-Winning Science Fiction Writer

Hominids got legs!

by Rob - January 15th, 2010.
Filed under: Hominids.

Tor was going to put my 2002 Hugo Award-winning novel Hominids into trade (large-format) paperback this year, which is the format to which they retire older books that had been in mass-market but aren’t selling as briskly as they once were. But I just got this email from my editor, David G. Hartwell (“mm” is mass-market paperback):

Due to the continued notable success of Hominids in mm paperback, we have not yet scheduled it in trade paper. The sales are too good to pass up in this market.

Go, Ponter, go!

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8 Responses to Hominids got legs!

  1. Why are poorer selling books published using more paper?

  2. Mass-market paperbacks are printed on regular paper, and are consigned into stores on a "strippable" basis: if a copy doesn't sell quickly, it's cover is ripped off, and only the cover is returned to the publisher for credit (about half of all mass-market paperbacks end up being destroyed this way).

    Trade paperbacks are often printed on acid-free paper (meaning their shelf lives are much longer) and they are consigned on non-strippable basis — meaning if the bookstore doesn't sell it, the whole book is returned to the publisher, who will send the exact same copy on to another store to try its luck there.

    Only brisk sales can support the former economic model; the latter works better for books that don't sell as quickly (and, as you can see, it's actually the latter, not the former, that ends up ultimately using smaller amounts of paper).

  3. Wow, I didn't actually know that. That seems a bit insane destroying so many mass-market paperbacks that people could have enjoyed. I wish I had a better grasp of the economics of publishing to see why that works out.
    I mean, I guess storage space is expensive, but if a new work comes out by an author that author's other works will likely see a resurgence in sales if they are in the same genre. If they already sent the covers of those books back for credit, what to do they do, order more?
    I know in the past the reason I didn't buy more of your books was because I didn't see them at chapters (so I'm happy to see the resurgence in your older published works).

  4. An older article, but you may be interested in his perspective: 2007/01/the-rise-and-fall-of-the-mass.html


  5. I think it's interesting that trade paperbacks are the last resort for mass market paperbacks on their last leg. I didn't know that that was the path that books took. Interesting stuff.

    I can see some of the logic behind it, though. Trades sell for more, thus giving both the publisher and writer a shot at larger profits before the book finally gives up its ghost.

    I'm curious, though, what are the typical contractual terms for books that go out-of-print? What I mean by that is, how long does a book typically have to be out-of-print before the rights revert back to the author and they can then try to sell it elsewhere?

  6. Oh, another question regarding trade paperbacks… aren't the royalty rates higher on trades, as well?


  7. I also like trade paperbacks better, myself. I like their size better than mass market, and I like the price better than hardcover.

  8. Actually, normal royalty rates for trade paperbacks are lower than those for mass-market, on a percentage basis: mass-market is usually 8% of cover price, whereas trade is only 7.5% (although since trades are pricier, the actual amount per copy received is higher).

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