Mass-Market Paperbacks: Ubi Sunt, and All That?

Yesterday, The Passive Voice  linked to these Association of American Publishers figures via GalleyCat:

2012 vs 2011 YTD revenuesGalleyCat’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.

4 comments

  1. I agree with you on the numbers. The percentages tell a truer story. Of the print editions, only the Hardcover has seen increase is nominal, and that has been nominal. But the digital formats–both e-book and audio–wow! You just can’t argue the numbers!

    Thanks for bringing this encouraging picture to us!

      1. Absolutely! Today I also came across the June 21 post on “A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing” that promotes lower cost audiobooks. Between that and your information on digital sales, what timing! So fortuitous that I just had to leave a comment on “Newbie’s Guide.” The great timing on this also prompted me to add this subject as a first post on the new “For Writers” page of my blog.

        Happy listening!

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