Mass Market Paperback: Friend or Foe?

Sarah has an interesting post about mass market paperback ghettoization. She writes:

But sometimes, it makes sense for a writer to be published in mass market PBO. Especially if they haven’t been heard from in some time. After the jump, I’ll talk of two writers being re-introduced using a marketing strategy that’s worked well in romance and might prove useful for mysteries as well.

She points to Paul Levine and John Ramsey Miller, among many others, as examples. And while Sarah’s dealing specifically with mysteries, I should point out that if it’s an author’s intention of being read, the mass market paperback route might yield better results than a hardcover or even a TPB — assuming, of course, that a regular audience picking up a book at an airport is the audience. Which begs the question: Is it viable for a literary title (say, a midlister) to be released in mass market paperback format? Might today’s publishers be losing a younger audience by not releasing their hot literary titles in MMP?

Beyond this, the most immediate example of an author using the MMP route that comes to mind is Gregory McDonald, whose Fletch books were released solely in paperback and drew an audience this way. (And in an entirely unrelated note, McDonald used the series format to jump around in sequence. The limitations of Fletch, for example, being in Rio with $3 million forced him to think creatively about Fletch’s aftermath.)


  1. Can’t speak to reading new literature as a MMP, but it’s always such a treat to find a title I want to read in a used-book store in the MMP format. Those things are beyond cheap! Plus, it’s always fun and a little strange to find something odd–say, “Gravity’s Rainbow”–as a MMP.

  2. I really love mass market paperbacks, probably because I used to travel by mass transit a lot. I’ve put off buying books for years because I wasn’t willing to get the trade paperback or hardcover versions; still, I do eventually buy the MMPs when they come out, so I’m not sure how much money my stalling costs the average publishing company.

    On the other hand, I’m a lot more likely to take a chance with an unknown (to me) writer’s work if I can pick it up for the MMP price.

  3. Good question. Gregory McDonald, though, started out in the 1970s, when I don’t think things were nearly as stratified as they are now.

    And with litfic almost exclusively in trade, I really doubt it’s going to jump back to mass market. I don’t even know if the younger audience is that amenable to MMP anyway — comic books and graphic novels, after all, are trade paperback-ish size more often than not.

  4. As someone who spends a ridiculous amount of her essentially non-existent income on books, I have been fervently wishing for the abolishment of hardcover and trade paperback formats for a while now. Sure, they’re prettier (although frankly I find hardcovers ungainly and impossible to read unless you’re sitting at a desk), but no amount of prestige is worth the difference in price.

    Of course, I’m the kind of person who’d rather read a crumbling paperback I got at a used bookstore if it comes cheap, so maybe I’m not the right person to be offering an opinion.

  5. I only buy MMPs when I stumble upon a used copy of something that is out of print or otherwise hard to find. The last one I bought, I think, was Norman Mailer’s Of a Fire on the Moon, which I found for, like, 50 cents at a store here in Knoxville.

    I almost always buy trade paperbacks, which are lighter and cheaper than the hardcovers but have larger text and more margin room for notes and underlining. I don’t remember the last time I read a book without a pencil in my hand.

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