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Paperbacks are books that have flexible covers made from paper or cardboard, as opposed to hardbacks, which have covers made from more rigid materials, such as stiff cardboard covered with heavy paper, fabric or leather.
Also referred to as softbacks or softcovers, paperbacks are also bound differently than hardback books. The pages in paperback books are usually held together with glue, rather than being stitched or stapled.
Paperbacks are not as durable as hardbacks but are less expensive to produce and to buy. The soft cover format is generally preferred by publishers when a book is not expected to be a big seller, and the publisher wants to make a smaller investment in production, or when a book has exhausted large sales numbers in hardback format, and the publisher believes the majority of new sales will come from less expensive softbacks.
In the past, if a book was first released in hardback, the publisher would typically release the paperback version about nine months after the hardback release. However, in recent years, publishers have become more flexible, releasing the paperback version of some titles as quickly as six months after hardback release, and delaying the paperback release of other titles, if the hardback is selling particularly well, as much as a year or more.
Paperbacks are generally smaller and lighter than hardbacks, making them more portable and convenient for travelers to carry. However, since softcover construction is less sturdy, they are more likely to get damaged with handling than hardcovers. Therefore, many consumers prefer to buy paperback versions for books they only plan to read once, but hardcovers for books they plan to keep.
There are two main types of paperbacks: mass market paperbacks and trade paperbacks. Mass market paperbacks are smaller than trade paperbacks, do not contain illustration and are printed on inexpensive paper than can yellow with time and tear easily. Some titles, such as novels by new authors or genre fiction, are printed only as mass market paperbacks.
Trade paperbacks are often used as the softcover follow-up for a title printed initially as a hardback. Trade paperbacks are larger than mass market paperbacksósometimes the same size as the hardback editionócan contain illustration and are printed on higher quality paper than a mass market paperback. The trade editions of a book often look identical to the hardback version except for the softer cover.