Why print books are getting smaller, and why that’s a GOOD thing!

Recently I ran a survey on lesbian and bi women fiction to get some feedback from readers regarding their thoughts on our industry. You can see the results here.

Lots of interesting information came out of the survey so I thought I’d spend some time addressing some of the points made. Today, I’d like to talk about one of the issues raised: paperbacks. More specifically, the size of paperbacks.

Where did my book go?

One of the things highlighted by the survey, was that people felt that paperbacks were getting smaller.

While this is almost certainly the case, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the actual book is any smaller.

To explain this better, let me explain how paperbacks are made…

Demand or Run?

When an author/publisher decides to print books, they have two options.

1) Order a print run from a printer

2) Use a Print On Demand (POD) service

Print Run

A print run involves asking a printing company to print books in bulk. The more books that are printed at one time, the cheaper an individual unit costs. 

However, there are problems with this. 

Firstly, the author/publisher needs to make a decision on how many books to order. One hundred? One thousand? It can be hard to know. Secondly, they have to store the books they order. And then they have to distribute those books. Ordering a print run of hundreds or even thousands of books can be risky as well as expensive. 

There’s always the chance that they could order too many and have to pay to have them pulped and recycled. And even though the excess books are recycled, none of this process is kind to the environment.

Print On Demand

Many authors/publishers have moved onto Print On Demand, or POD as it is also known. POD means that the cover and the print interior are uploaded to an online platform, such as Amazon, but a book is only printed when a copy is purchased. When a customer orders a POD book, the book is printed and dispatched to them. There’s no waste, no storage cost, no disposal costs, it’s kinder to the environment, and it’s easier all round. 

The only problem with POD is that no one benefits from the bulk purchase discount of a print run. Printing one solitary book is obviously more costly than printing one hundred at a time.

But, what about stores?

Paperbacks are cheaper in bookstores, supermarkets, and anywhere else where you can physically browse books, because these books are printed in a print run. The more books that can be printed in one go, the cheaper the individual unit.

Books in physical locations are often printed by large publishers who can print tens of thousands of books at a time. They have their own printing presses and warehouses. They ship books out to thousands of physical stores. With scale comes a reduction in price.

Unfortunately, the average lesbian and bi women fiction author can only dream of such things. Our market is small and print runs are impossible.

The workaround

With the POD costs high and print runs out of the question, authors/publishers are forced to find other workarounds in order to reduce the expense of producing a paperback. And, as we all know, the best way to make something cheaper is for there to be less of it. But this doesn’t mean that the books have fewer words in them. On the contrary, most books are the same word count as before. It’s just that a few tricks of the trade have been introduced to slim those paperbacks down!

The Diet

Formatting a print book is a fiddly business. There are so many elements to take into consideration! The size of the book, margin, fonts, headings, scene breaks. All of these individual elements have an impact on the overall size of a book.

Reducing the margin by half a centimetre may not sound like much, but that small change over many pages soon adds up. Reducing the font size by half a point can easily lose 10-20 pages in a full-length novel. And then there are the fancy spaces between chapters and scene breaks. It all adds up.

Good book formatters have found innovative ways to trim our books down, all without the reader noticing!

Therefore a book that was originally weighing in at 340 pages may now come in under 300. While this is a smaller book, it is not a smaller story. It’s no longer possible to judge a book by the number of printed pages.

Hooray for design

So, the next time you are looking at paperbacks in our market and you think that you are getting less for your money, remember this might not be the case.

It could just be a contentious author/publisher trying to save you some of your hard-earned cash through some innovative design!

Look out for the word count to see the real size of a book, most publishers will list word count on their website.

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