The Great MMPB Vanishing Act

By Joe Moore

In a recent article in The New York Times, it was revealed that according to a survey last month from the Association of American Publishers, mass-market paperback sales have decreased by 14% since 2008. According to the article, there are a couple of factors responsible. Heavily discounted hardcover pricing from the chain stores and online sellers have contributed. Second, the increase in the trade paperback format as an alternative. Although a soft cover book, the trade paperback is larger, can command a higher price than the MMPB, and is usually a better quality product from a production standpoint. A third factor is the rapid rise of the e-book’s popularity, which is priced at or below MM prices and aimed directly at the MMPB reader as an attractive alternative.

The mass-market paperback was developed in the late 1930s to create an efficient, affordable, and highly portable form of printing books for the masses. One of the first to succeed in the venture was Simon & Schuster which created the Pocket Books imprint. It was so successful that the term “pocket book” became synonymous with paperback. Two of the most notable books published in pocket editions were James Hilton’s Lost Horizon and Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth. Both appeared in paperback in 1939. A number of companies followed after Pocket Book’s concept including Ace, Dell, Bantam and Avon.

Today, according to the NYT’s article, many big box stores and national chains are gradually shrinking their shelf space for MMPBs and using the space for more hardcovers and trade paperbacks. These include Hudson, Barnes & Noble, and Wal-Mart.

The slow vanishing act of the MMPB is another sign of a changing marketplace for the publishing industry. Once a devoted reading fan purchases a device on which to read electronic publications, the advantages of e-books over MMPBs are compelling. These include similar pricing, portability, convenience, and the immediate availability of the book as opposed to waiting a year for the paperback version of a hardcover.

Next time you walk into your favorite drugstore, airport, mall store, or newsstand, check for yourself. It doesn’t take long to realize that the MMPBs are disappearing right before your eyes.

If you’re an author and are being published as original mass market, what is your agent or editor telling you about the future? Are you going to be converted over to trade format or e-book only? And for readers, are you still buying mass market paperbacks? New? Used? Or have you made the transition to some other format?