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Hardbacks - still a success story

12 May 2014

Hardbacks, rather than ebooks, are the wild cards of the publishing industry. Who would have thought that they would survive and prosper in the age of the ebook? Wouldn't you assume that hardbacks would simply fade away once they were so radically undercut on price by ebooks, never mind paperbacks.

The survival of the hardback shows that book-buying is not just a matter of price. Many other factors come into it, including collectability, as price is only one amongst many factors affecting book purchase.

Many hardbacks are bought as gifts and this has changed very little over the years. If anything the hardback book has become more entrenched, as a gift that shows you have taken the trouble to find something that the person you are giving it to would really like, in fact like enough to spend several hours reading it. It's a discriminating, flattering kind of present, and one that has satisfying bulk when wrapped up. If you've got your choice right, the person receiving it will be genuinely pleased.

Certain kinds of books have always fared well in hardback. Cookery books, with their need for sturdiness, come to mind and non-fiction in general is popular in hardback. Biography has always worked better in hardback than it ever did in paperback. Art books need the space and superior production values. There is a growing market for really handsome editions of all kinds of books. These are all good gift categories as well.

The other reason for hardback sales holding up is that many readers like to buy handsome hardback editions of their favourite bestselling authors' books on first publication - to treat themselves by getting the opportunity to read them right away, but also to add the new book to their (hardback) collection.

Hardbacks have often been heavily discounted from a quite high published or list price. Supermarkets, price clubs and others tend to offer hardback editions at greatly reduced prices, so the buyer feels they are getting a handsome hardback at a very good price - a good deal in fact.

The internet hasn't changed this all that much, although when buying a hardback online you have to take the production values more on trust. Amazon has made a great deal of money by selling hardbacks at low prices, at substantial discount to the published price, and this single retailer has had a major effect on hardbacks' continued health by providing a thriving market for the hardback edition. To be fair, independent booksellers often also do well with selling hardbacks to their more affluent customers, although stories abound of them ordering them from Amazon to do so!

So it looks like hardbacks will continue to thrive and will survive happily alongside paperbacks and ebooks in the book market of the future.