Are E-books the End of Mass Market Paperbacks?

In Discussion by Edward Nawotka

When it comes to convenience, it is tough to beat one-click purchasing and instant digital downloads that the e-book format offers.

By Edward Nawotka

The mass market paperback once revolutionized book publishing. Today, outside of train and plane stations, and grocery and convenience stories, you would have a hard time finding them on the shelves. Bookstores hardly stock them any longer, save for a few spinner racks near the magazines. What’s more, mass market paperbacks have been rising in price as publishers have produced slightly larger trim sizes — ones that more closely resemble trade paperbacks.

In today’s feature story Randy Petway of Publishing Technology notes that mass markets are “not doomed,” but adds:

…it’s a convenience issue. Here’s an example — Borders are closing 700 more stores across the US. One of those is local to me. Now in the past, on my way home from work I might have gone in there to browse because it was convenient. Now it’s gone and the closest bookstore is eight or nine miles away. I’m not going to drive that far to look for a paperback, so I’m more inclined to buy it as an e-book. People are not buying mass market paperbacks as objects, they buy them to read. So they’ll go with convenience, which is to download with one click.

In addition, the genres that end to do well as mass markets — romance, mystery, thrillers — also tend to dominate the current market for e-books.

So, have e-books ushered in the end of the era of the mass market paperback? Or were mass markets already an afterthought for the book business and digital is just the final killing blow?

My guess: mass market paperbacks will last right up to the point where absolutely everyone who wants one has a dedicated e-reader or smartphone — three years, tops.

Let us know what you think in the comments.

About the Author

Edward Nawotka

A widely published critic and essayist, Edward Nawotka serves as a speaker, educator and consultant for institutions and businesses involved in the global publishing and content industries. He was also editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives since the launch of the publication in 2009 until January 2016.