Well it’s obvious isn’t it?  It costs less to bind a paperback than a hardback.

This is true, but not altogether unambiguous.  What we normally think of in these situations is a combined run, hardback/paperback, where the 500 hardbacks have a stamped case and no jacket, and the 2000 paperbacks have a four-color cover.  Actually, what makes the hardback more expensive in this scenario is the quantity not the specs.  If you did the whole run as unjacketted stamped case hardbacks, your overall cost would be lower than if you did the whole run as a paperback*.

Now you’ll say that’s ridiculous because we actually need the book to appeal to two distinct markets: the libraries who want a more durable version and will pay more for it, and the public who won’t pay nearly as much.  You want to be able to publish the book at $100 for the few and at $35 for the many.  Being able to show the same “profit” by pricing all 2500 at $48 won’t work: because your knowledge of the market tells you that $35 is as much as the masses will pay and $48 is less than you could get from librarians.

In that paragraph is embedded the truth that we tend always to overlook.  Paperbacks are cheaper because we (expect to) sell more copies of them.


* I’m not going to prove that.  You can run the numbers yourselves.  But do bear in mind that when you do the paperback cover you have to pay the designer, and perhaps a permission fee for an illustration.  For the hardback you can “design” a standard stamping die for next to nothing, say $5.  So it could be $5 against $1500 before you even start on the manufacturing costs.


As I seem to be spending almost all my time watching the Tour de France these days, I am recycling a piece I did back in 2010 at the very beginning of this blog. These unobvious truths bear repeating I think.