Is the hardback's day done?

Okay, I have an interest in this as the new special edition hardback of INCEPTIO came out in March. But the wish to mark a point in my book journey set me off thinking… Dangerous, I know!

Traditional publishers bring out a hardback before the paperback as it’s more profitable and they can recoup their costs and make a profit faster than if they published the book in paperback. Hardbacks are bigger than paperbacks, look more impressive, and are more visible – whether in a window display or on tables in the bookshop.

If the book becomes a bestseller as a hardback, then the paperback edition may not appear for a while. It’s worth noting that the ebook will come out with the hardback, but often retail at (in my opinion) a stupendously high price, for example £9.99 or even £11.99! Perhaps this is to nudge readers towards opting for the hardback. Or am I a teensy bit too cynical?

There’s no doubt that hardbacks have their own allure. The emit quality and value and demonstrate that the publisher values the book and cares about it enough to go to the cost of producing it. It shows readers that the book is something special for the long term – a keeper.

  • Cover quality and designs are usually superior
  • Pages don’t get damaged as easily as with paperbacks
  • More substantial and durable
  • Usually higher quality paper inside
  • Great for a gift or for collectors

So what does an indie author-publisher do?

Not having the resources of a large publishing house, producing a hardback with a dust jacket is a serious decision for an indie. Firstly, a new cover design which means the dust jacket complete with front and back flaps and a design for the outside board cover. Not all hardbacks have dust jackets, but I’m a traditionalist on this. And this can be a significant cost as you are commissioning two designs in reality.

©Jessica Bell Design

Depending on the message to potential readers, the text on the dust jacket will be different from that on the paperback. The blurb on the back of the paperback transfers to the front inside flap which is where the reader expects to find it. The biography from inside the paperback transfers to the inside back flap. The text on the back of the dust jacket will be new. Mine refers to the whole Roma Nova series. Lots of thought here! Luckily for me, the wonderful Jessica Bell Design produced an outstanding duo.

©Jessica Bell Design

Next, readers buying this admittedly more expensive but special format deserve something extra and exclusive. I wrote two new short stories – one solving a mystery I’ve been dangling before readers for ten years – plus some conversations  between other characters in the story, and a short history of INCEPTIO.

I won’t tell you how expensive the printing and shipping costs are for me – you’d faint – but it’s been a pleasure developing this hardback. Perhaps only a few will buy it, but sometimes, you need to mark a milestone and in the book world a beautiful hardback does just that.

Even in the day of the ebook and the mass-market paperback, hardback fiction brings in about £70m annually (roughly 20% of the printed fiction market), according to sales data from Nielsen BookScan (2018).

And who gives an ebook for Christmas?


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO, CARINA (novella), PERFIDITAS, SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA, NEXUS (novella), INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO,  and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series. Double Identity, a contemporary conspiracy, starts a new series of thrillers. JULIA PRIMA, a new Roma Nova story set in the late 4th century, is now out.

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