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Learn the difference between mass market paperback vs. paperback books here. This post details the smaller and less durable but cheaper mass market paperbacks and the larger and more durable but more expensive trade paperbacks. You’ll quickly and easily uncover all the answers to your questions below, so let’s get started.

Top: To Kill a Mockingbird is an example of a mass market paperback. Fahrenheit 451 is an example of a trade paperback. Bottom: The open mass market paperback example is on top of the open trade paperback example.

Mass Market Paperback vs. Paperback: Quick Summary

Infographic explaining Mass Market paperback versus paperback books.

TAKEAWAYS

  • Paperback books: larger, higher quality, and more expensive
  • Mass market paperback books: smaller, with less durability, but cheaper

The biggest difference to me is legibility: traditional paperback books are both larger and spaced greater between the lines, so they are much easier on your eyes.

What Is Mass Market Paperback?: The Meaning Explained

Definition

Mass market paperback books are smaller, less durable paperback books with a thick paper or paperboard cover. The pages inside are made of lower-quality paper, and they are generally not illustrated.


Size

The standard mass market paperback size is four inches wide by six or seven inches high. They are lighter and thinner than standard trade paperback books. The font inside may also be smaller in order to keep the overall size of the book very small.

Mass market paperback books are made smaller in order to fit into spinning racks at non-traditional locations, like airports.


Cost

Self-publishers often publish their books in paperback and/or mass market paperback form for cost savings.

However, the rising popularity of e-books, which can be purchased at low cost or borrowed for free from the library, has threatened the market for mass-market paperback books.


Genres

Popular genres of mass market paperbacks include the classics, romance, mystery, suspense, and thrillers. They are meant to be purchased on impulse and/or to be more widely available to the general public.

Since they are published “in mass,” mass market book publication may be reserved for the most popular titles and authors.


Release Details

Mass market paperbacks are often released after the hardcover edition. However, a book may have hardcover, paperback, and/or mass market publications.


Distribution

Mass market paperback books are often sold in non-traditional locations, such as airports, drugstores, newsstands, and grocery stores.


Covers: Strippable and Non-Strippable

Some mass market paperback books have “strippable” covers. This allows the seller or distributor to remove the cover and return the book to the publisher for a refund or credit if it is not sold. This costs less in return postage, and the remainder of the book is then recycled.

Note that “Non-strippable” books may only be returned to the publisher by the seller or distributor if the book cover is completely intact.

What is Trade Paperback?: The Meaning Explained

Definition

A paperback (also known as a trade paperback) book has a soft cover with a thick paper or paperboard cover. Paperback books are glued together, whereas hardcover books are stapled or stitched together. The pages inside a paperback book are usually made of high-quality, acid-free paper.


Size

The standard paperback size is about five or six inches wide by eight or nine inches high. Trade paperbacks are larger and more durable than mass market paperbacks.


Cost

Publishers release paperback books when they want to offer a lower-cost format of a particular title than a hardcover book. The profit margin is smaller for paperback books versus hardcover books.

Most advanced review copies (ARCs) of books sent to book critics for review prior to publication are also printed in paperback format. This is because printing a paperback book is less expensive than printing a hardcover book but higher quality than mass-market paperback books.


Genres

Paperback books are popular in the nonfiction, popular fiction, and romance genres.


Release Details

If the publication of a paperback edition of a title follows the publication of a hardcover edition by the same publisher, the pages are usually identical in print to those in the hardcover edition. The paperback book is also usually close to the same size as the hardcover edition. 

However, paperbacks may lack extra content, such as forewords and illustrations.

Paperback books can be published because the author is less popular and thus, readers may be less likely to purchase a more expensive hardcover book. Or, paperback books may be published to provide fans of a popular book with a less expensive option. For example, paperback editions of the bestselling Harry Potter books and Jane Austen books are available.


Distribution

Distribution of paperbacks is widespread, from bookstores to libraries, big box stores, and non-traditional retailers like airports.


Cover Details

The cover art of a paperback book may or may not differ from that of a hardcover book.

Some paperback books have a “French flap.” This means that the front and back cover have a folded section behind the cover, like a dust jacket on a hardcover book. The purpose is only to make the paperback book look more like a hardcover book but at a lower cost.

However, I sometimes like to use it as a bookmark!

Trade Paperback vs. Mass Market Paperback: Examples At A Glance

The similarities and differences between mass market paperbacks vs. paperback books are further described below in a table for easy reference.

PaperbackMass Market Paperback
Coverthick paper or paperboard cover thick paper or paperboard cover
Durabilitymore durableless durable
Pageshigher quality paper, such as acid-free, pages that will not discolor or fadelower quality wood pulp paper pages that may discolor and/or fade
Bindingglue bindingglue binding
Sizebigger size overall (five to six inches by six to nine inches in the United States)smaller size overall (four by six or seven inches in the United States)
Fontbigger font sizesmaller font size
Space between linesbigger space between linessmaller space between lines
Weightheavierless heavy
Pricehigher pricelower price
Retailerstraditional, such as bookstoresnon-traditional, such as airports, drugstores, and grocery stores
Distributorentities in the book publishing tradeperiodical or magazine entities
Distributionlibraries and traditional retailersnon-traditional, such as airports, drugstores, newsstands, and grocery stores
BarcodeUPC barcodeEAN barcode
Also known astrade paperbackpocketbook or pocket edition

NOTE ABOUT THE U.K.

In the United Kingdom, paperbacks come in three sizes: “A,” which is about 4.33″ by 7.01″ and similar to mass market paperbacks; “B,” which is 5.12″ x 7.8″ and similar to a small trade paperback book; and “C,” which is 5.32″ x 8.51″ and similar to a standard trade paperback book.

Paperback Shopping Tips

If you’re still unsure whether to purchase a paperback or mass market paperback book, I can offer some practical advice.

Ask yourself, is price a concern?

  • If price is your main concern and/or the book is really short and quick to read, I recommend that you purchase a mass market paperback book.
  • If the price is not your main concern and/or the book is longer, I recommend that you purchase a paperback book. The larger size makes it much easier on your eyes. It will also last longer and be worth more upon resale.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a mass-market paperback?

A mass-market paperback is a smaller, affordable book format, typically produced for a wide audience. It has a compact size and lower-quality paper and binding.

What is the difference between paperback and mass-market paperback?

Paperbacks are softcover books available in various sizes and qualities. Mass-market paperbacks are a smaller paperback format, made with lower-quality materials and priced affordably for wide distribution.

Why is paperback cheaper than mass-market paperback?

Typically, mass-market paperbacks are cheaper than general paperbacks due to their smaller size, lower-quality paper, and more cost-effective manufacturing processes.

What does mass market paperback mean in Amazon?

On Amazon, “mass market paperback” refers to a compact, affordably priced book format that is smaller in size and lower in quality. These editions are aimed at broad distribution.

Which is better paperback or mass market paperback?

It depends on the reader’s preferences. Paperbacks offer better quality and larger sizes, while mass-market editions are more affordable and portable. Choice varies based on budget and reading comfort.

Conclusion

Now you know all the similarities and differences between mass market paperback vs. paperback books. To briefly recap:

  • Paperback books are larger, higher quality, and more expensive
  • Mass market paperback books are smaller and less durable but also cheaper
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6 Comments

  1. I have come across what I can only describe as “mass market” hardback books on a few occasions. They are characterized by having a standard hardcover binding paired with paper much like the low quality mass market paperback stock. I have been quite disappointed when I receive a book like this from Amazon or Thrift Books.

    Another type of anomaly among hardback books, which is becoming more common, is the move to using glue based binding vs. more traditional and more durable binding types. We had a very popular children’s poetry book (hardcover) which had its binding break (the glue broke vs. flexed) in several spots which lead to portions of the book falling out. It was one of the family’s favorites so I purchased a brand new hardback version of the book to replace the older broken book. Sadly, the new hardback book has already had the glue binding break in one location.

    Purchasing a hardback version of a work is no longer a guarantee of receiving a quality product. I plan to send these cheaply made hardcover books back to the seller in the future. A good quality trade paperback is a much better option to this type of hardcover, if it can be found.

  2. I just purchased “Beartown” in paperback because the only other choice was Library binding ($38.00). What’s the difference between hardcover and library? It looks good on the outside but the paper inside is dark, small type and cheap feeling :(. Is it possible there’s other publishers with better quality before I purchase the sequel? Thanks!

    1. Donna, it sounds like you will prefer a hardcover. If you can’t find one new, perhaps you can try a used hardcover copy. I like to search places like ThriftBooks, eBay, and Pango for used books.

  3. Paperback (
    trade Paperback) and Hardcover. Hardcover usually (not always) comes with a dust jacket, which in turn can be covered with a jacket cover, to protect the jacket and the book. However, I find that it is possible to find plastic covers (adhesive on one side) which can be used to cover Trade Paperbacks. This is wonderful for people who value their trade paperbacks as much as their hard covers.