Paperback, softback, or softcover describe and refer to a book by the nature of its binding. The covers of such books are usually made of paper or cardboard, and are usually held together with glue rather than stitches or staples.
Paperbacks can be the preferred medium when a book is not expected to be a major seller, or in other situations where the publisher wishes to release a book without putting forth a large investment. Examples include many novels, and new editions or reprintings of older books. Publishers must balance the larger profit to be made by selling a small number of hardcovers (including sales to libraries, which prefer hardcovers) with a large profit per unit -- against the potentially larger profit to be made by selling a large number of paperbacks with a small profit per unit. Many modern books, especially genre fiction, are first editions in paperback. It is only the best-selling of books, such as 2003's The Da Vinci Code, which can maintain its sales in hardcover sufficiently to delay a paperback edition for longer than a year.
The 20th century mass-market paperback format was pioneered by German publisher Albatross Books in 1931 but the experiment was cut short. In England Penguin Books adopted many of Albatross's innovations, for instance the conspicuous logo and the color-coded covers for different genres, beginning in 1935, and was an immediate financial success. British publisher Allen Lane launched the Penguin imprint in 1935, with 10 reprint titles; this started the paperback revolution in the English-language book market. Number one on the Penguin list of 1935 editions was André Maurois's Ariel.
Allen Lane intended to produce cheap books. He bought paperback rights from publishers, ordered huge print runs (e.g., 20,000 copies) to keep unit prices low, and looked to non-traditional book selling retail locations. Booksellers were initially reluctant to buy his books. But Woolworths, placed a large order on the books, and the books sold extremely well. After this initial success, booksellers were no longer reluctant to stock paperbacks. The word "Penguin" became closely associated with the word "paperback".
Robert de Graaf, in 1939, issued a similar line in the USA, partnering with Simon & Schuster to found the Pocket Books imprint. The term "pocket book" became synonymous with paperback in English-speaking North America. In Québec, the term "livre de poche" was used, and continues to be used today. De Graaf, like Lane, negotiated paperback rights from other publishers, and produced large print runs. His practices contrasted with those of Lane in his adoption of illustrated covers, aimed at the North American market. In order to reach an even larger market than Lane had, he went the mass market route, through distribution networks of newspapers and magazines, which had a lengthy history of being aimed (in format and distribution) at mass audiences. This was the beginning of mass market paperbacks.
Because of its position as Number One in what became a very long list of Pocket editions, James Hilton's Lost Horizon is often cited as the first American paperback book, which is not correct. The first mass-market, pocket-sized, paperback book printed in America was an edition of Pearl Buck's The Good Earth, produced by Pocket Books as a proof-of-concept in late 1938, sold in New York City, and now very collectible.
A number of companies entered the paperback publishing field in the United States in the years after Pocket Books' inception, including Ace, Dell, Bantam, Avon and dozens of other smaller publishers. At first, paperbacks consisted entirely of reprints, but publishers soon found it economic to publish original works. Genre categories began to emerge, and mass market book covers reflected those categories. Mass market paperbacks had an impact on slick magazines (slicks) and pulp magazines. The market for cheap magazines diminished when buyers went to cheap books instead — one factor in this was that the content included in both formats crossed over — authors also found themselves abandoning magazines, and writing for the paperback market. Many pulp magazine cover artists were hired by paperback publishers to entice readers with their exciting artwork. Many well-known authors were published in paperback, including Arthur Miller and John Steinbeck, and some, like Dashiell Hammett, were published as paperback originals.
World War II brought both new technology and a wide readership of men and women now in the military or employed as shift workers; paperbacks were cheap, readily available, and easily carried. Furthermore, people who found that restrictions on travel brought them more time to read more paperbacks. Four colour printing and lamination developed for military maps made the paperback cover eye catching and kept ink from running as people would examine the cover of the book. A revolving metal rack was designed to display a wide variety of paperbacks in a small space that found its way into drugstores, dimestores, and markets.
U.S. paperbacks quickly entered the Canadian market, because the newspaper and magazine distribution network was controlled by U.S. companies. Canadian mass-market paperback initiatives in the 1940s included White Circle Books, a subsidiary of Collins (UK); it was fairly successful but was soon outstripped by the success of Harlequin which began in 1949 and, after a few years of publishing fragile editions of undistinguished novels, focused on the romance genre and became one of the world's largest publishers.
McClelland and Stewart entered the Canadian mass market book trade in the early 1960s, with its "Canadian best seller library" series (at a time when Canadian literary culture was beginning to be popularized, and a call for a Canadian author identity was discussed by the Canadian masses). See Egg Head or Quality Paperbacks for McClelland and Stewart's paperback line.
"A Format" paperbacks are 110 mm x 178mm (4.33" x 7.01")in size, "B Format" paperbacks are 130 mm x 198mm (5.12" x 7.8"), while "C Format" (trade paperbacks) are 135 mm x 216mm (5.32" x 8.51").
A mass market paperback (MMP or MMPB) is a small, usually non-illustrated, and inexpensive bookbinding format. They are commonly released after the hardback edition, and often sold in non-traditional bookselling locations such as airports, drug stores, and supermarkets, as well as in traditional bookstores. Many titles, especially in the area of genre fiction, are first editions in paperback and never receive a hardcover printing. This is particularly true of first novels by new authors.
Mass market paperbacks are distinguished from hardbacks by the different business practices that publishers and booksellers apply to them. When booksellers note that books have been in stock a while and have not sold, they may return them to the publisher for a refund or credit on future orders. However, in the case of mass market paperbacks, this "return" usually means stripping the front cover, returning that for credit, and pulping the book itself. Changes in the costs of printing relative to the costs of shipping have led to the creation of trade paperbacks, which are similar in format to mass market paperbacks, but larger (near hardback size), usually printed on higher quality paper, and with different returns policies applied to them.
Trade paperbacks are typically priced less than hardcover books and higher than mass market paperbacks. Virtually all "Advance Reader's Copies" are issued in trade paperback format.
In the medium of comic books, trade paperback comics are used to reprint several issues of a comic series in one volume, usually an important storyline or the entire series itself. Graphic novels are also sometimes found in trade paperback form. Publishers sometimes release popular collections first in a hardback form, followed by a trade paperback months later. Books that have done this include Marvel Comics' Secret War and DC Comics' Crisis on Infinite Earths amongst many others. Comic book trade paperbacks are listed at Millarworld's trade paperback list.