Hardcover vs. Paperback: Which is the Best for an Indie Author?

Michael
6 minute read
28.01.2022

We have heartwarming news for you! Print books still reign supreme, outselling ebooks 4-to-1, despite the accessibility of ebooks and audiobooks. The magic of print is impossible to emulate. 

It also means that the choice between hardcover vs. paperback books is still relevant to many indie authors. That’s the choice not without a nuance though. 

So, if you want to learn more about the difference between and benefits of hardcover and paperback covers, read along. 

The difference between a hardcover and a paperback book and their bindings

A hardcover book is a book with rigid covers that protect the pages. Such books have a flexible spine so they can be open and laid down flat on a horizontal surface.   

A paperback book is a book with soft, bendable covers.   

Mockup of a hardcover book design by Getcovers

Book cover design by Getcovers 

Before we dive into the benefits of different formats, we must understand that not all paperbacks and not all hardcover books are created equal. There are different types of bindings, which is how the book pages are kept together. The binding type affects the book’s longevity and durability. 

As it often happens with things that seem simple on the surface, bookbinding is a complex craft with dozens of different techniques. Nonetheless, the market prefers optimal ROI and simplicity, so the majority of modern bindings are limited. For example, IngramSpark offers the following book binding styles: 

  • Perfect Bound — Pages and paperback cover glued together at the spine.
  • Case Laminate (also, Case Binding) — Pages glued to hardcover at ends
  • Jacketed Case Laminate — Pages glued to hardcover at ends with the option to design what prints on the cover beneath the jacket.

Arguably, the most durable type of binding is Smyth Sewing, where the signatures of the book are folded and stitched through the fold. It’s a rare and expensive option though. 

So

If you’re to buy (or print) a paperback book, most likely it will be a perfect-bound one, which is a middle ground between the price and quality. The same goes for case-bound with hardcover books. Also, if you see a paperback book that’s more expensive than expected, it could mean a different kind of binding. 

Hardcover book design mockup

Design by Getcovers

Keep it in mind when contemplating the difference between paperback and hardcover books. 

Hardcover vs. paperback books from the reader’s perspective 

As any determined indie marketers and creators, let’s consider the perspective of our target audience first. So, when a reader has a choice between paperback and hardback versions of the new book, what drives their choice?

Paperback books pros as compared to hardback books: 

  • Supreme reading experience for avid readers

The majority of avid readers will find paperback books more comfortable because they’re flexible. You can bend a paperback book, so you have more ways of holding it and adjusting your grip for better comfort. Add to it the lower weight of the paperback editions, and the reading time goes up. In other words, paperbacks have a better user experience than hardbacks.

Holding a paperback book by bending it

  • Better for carrying around because of lower weight

Many readers like to carry their books with them. There’re plenty of opportunities to read a few pages during the day — a long queue, a work break, an idle hour in a cafe, public transport transit. Besides, a book in your bag can serve as a talisman, a comforting weight, an accessible escape from troubles (We know the feeling). In this case, the lower the weight of the book, the better. 

  • Lower price

Not much to comment on here. Paperbacks can be easily three times cheaper than hardcovers. So, often even if the reader likes hardcover books more, they choose a paperback one simply because of the price. 

  • Durability against some forms of damage

Wait, what? Yes, hardcover books are sturdy and feel more protected against the ravages of time and accidental damage. But, paperbacks are more durable in some situations. For example, hardcovers are more likely to come apart at the spine because of their weight and structure. 

Also, paperbacks are more likely to recover okay from water damage. Finally, if you hit a hardcover against something, it’s likely will have a “scar,” while paperback will come out undamaged.   

In this video, Daniel Greene demonstrates the point starting at 12:18 (Warning: extreme book gore! Not for the faint of heart)

Hardcover books pros as compared to paperback books: 

  • Premium feel and look

Nothing beats the feel of a well-put-together hardcover book. The texture, the weight, the sound, the way it sits on a shelf or a reading surface — there is no beating it. A hardcover book is a default option for that premium cozy vibe of a full bookshelf. 

  • Better hands-off reading experience

If a reader prefers a hands-off reading experience — placing the book somewhere and touching it only to turn a page — hardcovers are better. They have weight and “keep the shape.” 

  • Visual longevity

Though paperbacks are more flexible, all the bending you do to the book comes at a cost. As a result, paperback books can quickly lose their fresh look. (Though a paperback’s ruggedness has some charm to it.) At the same time, hardcovers maintain their smooth looks for much longer. 

  • More options for a cover finish and texture

Paperbacks are paperbacks. There’s no nuance to how they look or feel. At the same time, with hardcover books, you can have cloth, leather, or digital cloth editions, as well as different types of stamping and embossing.

Hardcover book design mockup

Design by Getcovers

What about dust jackets? 

Hardcover books can also have dust jackets — a removable paper cover on top of the hard one. Dust jacket usually displays cover art. 

Does your hardback edition need a dust jacket? Well, most likely, no. 

Dust jackets are an additional liability for a reader: It gets in a way of reading. Usually, you need to put a dust jacket aside before opening a book. The jacket can also be easily lost or damaged. For these reasons, dust jackets are used for premium editions of hardcover books that aren’t meant to be read or carried around often. 

Hardcover vs paperback books from the author’s perspective

Except for dreams and a healthy dose of vanity, what’s the difference between hardback and paperback for an indie author? 

The difference is, return on investment or ROI. 

For indie writers, the choice between hardcovers and paperbacks comes down to which option will sell better and will bring you more money so you can continue doing what you love without worrying about surviving. 

Hardcover book design mockup

Design by Getcovers

On Amazon KDP, the royalty for hardcovers and paperback is roughly 60%. Even though the hardcover print cost is higher, a higher price of the format more than compensates for it.   

So

You’ll get more money sale-by-sale from a hardcover book. But at the same time, people are less likely to buy hardcovers because they’re more expensive and less convenient. Besides, you need to invest more money into hardcover books, which means higher risk. 

Based on this logic, here are the pros and cons of hardcover vs. paperback books for indie authors:  

Hardcover books 

    + Higher ROI on a single book sale

    – Riskier investment 

    – Harder to sell

Paperback books 

    + Safer investment 

    + Easier to sell

    – Lower sale-by-sale ROI

Speaking of ROI, check out this article to learn how to create an effective book cover design on a budget

Hardback vs. paperback, which one to choose? 

Considering all the pros and cons, we suggest picking paperbacks over hardbacks for indie authors who grow their readership or publish the first edition of the new book.

Paperbacks are more accessible and generally more convenient for readers than hardbacks. Rarely a reader will commit to buying an expensive book they know nothing about. Besides, the lower costs of paperbacks make the format easier on your wallet and result in better ROI. 

On the contrary, if you want to give the established readers some premium feel or provide collectors with the new beauty to put on a shelf, hardbacks are a go-to. In addition, hardcover books are great prizes for giveaways and different contests.

Or, if you have a budget, why choose? Pick both! Simply order more paperbacks than hardcovers.  

But as always, base your decision on hardcover vs. paperback on yours and your reader’s preferences. 

 

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    Michael

    As a part of Getcovers marketing team, Michael helps indie creatives master their craft. In his free time, Michael likes playing his electric guitar, losing hours in video games, and reading unhealthy amounts of SF&F (and trying to move his body at least a little bit to not transform into a plant).

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