Hardbacks still have their fans – but isn’t it time for a redesign?

Our latest article is now live on The Bookseller website, or you can read it below:

“Hardbacks – they’re like the Marmite of the reading world. Some readers love them for the hardy aesthetic they lend to their bookshelves, while others hate them for the costly and oversized heaviness they inflict. The pleasure of reading shouldn’t leave anyone with a carpal tunnel problem, after all. So why are they so big and expensive?

There have been many debates over the years in the industry about the necessity and future of hardback books. Are they an outdated idea? Do they only pander to the elitist readers who can afford such large tomes? Are they needed for reviewers when many people are now happy to review books in ebook format? Et cetera. Then there’s the issues surrounding sustainability, as most hardbacks are much harder to recycle than most paperbacks – although potentially many more paperbacks are wasted each year, as they have bigger print runs and are seen by readers as a lesser investment than a hardback. These are all quite legitimate concerns, perhaps even more so in today’s economic climate.

I don’t personally believe they are an outdated format; certainly many reader groups on social media are full of people who adore them, especially special editions which they covet and keep as part of a growing collection to adorn their shelves. So why aren’t publishers considering ways to make them…better?

For too long, the publishing industry’s end customer has been the bookshop (understandable from a business perspective), which has led to a disconnect with the very readers who are the ultimate end consumer. Publishers have been very slow on the uptake of new trends in bookselling over the past few years, such as subscriptions, accessibility, special edition hardbacks etc., which have been taken up by smaller companies who are willing to make the change and connect with the reader’s wants much faster. Reader groups perhaps hold the key to enormous untapped resources for publishers in terms of selling and creation. Readers are, after all, the entire point of creating a book, surely, whether you are an author or a publisher, and listening to what they think is potentially one of the biggest bonuses of social media, which of course is a whole other conversation.

So why are hardbacks so expensive? Yes, they cost more to produce – but do they have to? The costs, to both publisher and reader, are linked to the size of the product, so isn’t the problem of size in hardbacks causing an ongoing issue that could so easily be solved with a smaller trim size? While I get the need to make a new book stand out and get noticed on release, is creating something so big it puts off readers really worth that gamble? I understand the financial idea behind releasing the hardback first (even if I don’t necessarily agree with it), but not why they have to be so big. A little bigger I could understand, but seriously – some of them are enormous! If we’re talking major names such as Stephen King and Colleen Hoover, would those hardbacks not sell just as many (maybe even more) if they were of a decent size and therefore of a slightly better price, making the reader more willing to pay for a brand new hardback? Why can’t an amazingly beautiful hardback be the same size as a paperback? It is doable in terms of printing and would cost both business and end consumer much, much less.

How do I know that? Because that’s exactly what Scorpius Books has done. We create paperback-sized hardbacks which have been amazingly well received by bookshops and readers alike, with cries of “Why isn’t anyone else doing this?” and “This is such a great idea”. There were plenty of printers willing to create these smaller sizes for us, it was just that no one had seemed to bother asking them to do it before. And with the reduced cost of production, comes the reduced retail price which we’re able to pass on to the reader.

So many readers complain of the size and cost of hardbacks which they love, so why not find that compromise for their benefit? The reader is happy, the publisher is happy and the booksellers are happy when they no longer have to find space on their limited shelves for mile-wide hardbacks. Why aren’t more publishers giving readers the option to have those aesthetically pleasing hardbacks without the oversized and overpriced inconvenience…and with healthy wrists?”

What do you think? Are you a fan of hardbacks or does the size put you off, in which case if they were cheaper and smaller, would you buy more of them?