Mass-Market Paperbacks: Ubi Sunt, and All That?
GalleyCat’s comments highlight the fact that ebook revenue ($282.3 million) has surpassed hardcover revenue ($229.6 million), but also gives paper its due by quoting the AAP report: “Trade Paperback remained a clear #1 in net sales revenue despite some erosion” (accessed 6/18/12). Yeah, I guess: $299.8 million is bigger than $282.3 million. Another way to look at it is that ebook revenue is less than 6% lower than trade paper revenue. Is that a “clear” lead? Well, it depends. In a U.S. presidential election, 6% is a blow-out. In a horse race, you’d better have a camera.
At any rate, what I find striking, here, is the almost 21% decline in mass-market paperback sales in just one year.
The days of the mass-market paperback are, perhaps, numbered. I say this because, as I understand it, profit margins on mass-market paperbacks are very low. They make money because they move en masse. How much mass can you lose before mass-markets are just not profitable any more — at least not at their current low price points? And once that $7.99 price point becomes a thing of the past, ebooks will look even more attractive in comparison. Vicious cycle ensues.
And notice the 10+% decline in trade paperbacks.
I imagine larger-format, higher-quality paperbacks will hang on a lot more tenaciously than mass-markets, since the genre-fiction categories that are ebooks’ bread-and-butter (romance, mystery, etc.) represent less of the total. In fact, I think they’ll “hang on” permanently, since there will always be people who want to read on paper. Still, I wonder just how small that niche might get and what percentage of larger-format paperbacks will be POD books, ten years from now.