Where Are Mass Market Paperbacks Headed?

by Samuel Pordengerg Aug 6, 2022 News
Where Are Mass Market Paperbacks Headed?

Mass market paperbacks have been in decline for the last year. The Association of American Publishers puts the decline in dollar sales at more disturbing than the decline in unit sales. There will be more declines in 2022.

The mass market paperback format has had ups and downs. The format was trying to recover from the shock it suffered due to the explosion of cheap e-books when it last wrote about mass market paperbacks. During the DOJ trial to prevent PRH from acquiring S&S, the CEO of PRH was asked if he had reduced the number of mass market paperbacks.

When it comes to mass market paperbacks, low prices have always been one of the most important things for readers to look for. After the worst of the Pandemic passed, the company conducted a research that found price accessibility and Portability to be the top two reasons consumers buy mass market titles.

Pricing is a very important consideration for some readers according to the deputy publisher of Gallery Books Group. If mass market consumers continue to support it, we will continue to publish into it.

Even as a few publishers have increased the trim size of mass market paperbacks, they are reluctant to go past the $9.99 price point, because they are aware of the price sensitivity around the format. Sales of mass market paperbacks for the company are generally flat, though they still account for about half of the publisher's revenue, down from 59%.

Mass market publishers have reduced their output due to the pricing limit. A factor in the drop in mass market title output and sales is the steady migration of major romance and mystery authors from mass market to trade paperback. Colleen Hoover is one author who has gone through a transition.

While mass market remains an important part of the publishing program, it's not as important as it used to be, according to the CEO of the company. He supports the idea that mass market authors are moving to different formats.

Mass market is still an important format for western books. "We have begun to offer westerns in trade paper four to six times a year, and those titles have been successful for us, reaching a different reader and one who might not be so price conscious" As long as the marketplace supports it, mass market will be our primary western format.

Publishers are altering their strategies to meet consumer expectations. The publisher has reduced the number of mass market cozies. In order to capture readers who prefer a trade paper format, the company now publishes in that format as well. The price point is likely to come into play. The mass market price point is very attractive for those who like to read multiple books at a time.

Historical romances are often done in both mass market and trade, but contemporary romances are mostly done in the trade format.

Mass market is still an important way to introduce new authors. About 23% of authors who appear in trade paperback and hardcover get their start in mass market, according to Swinwood. Swinwood said that the format is an effective way to introduce new voices.

Keeping retailers interested in carrying a large section is the biggest challenge for mass market. Walmart and other mass merchandisers are important outlets for mass market paperbacks. Swinwood said that if a store does not have a large mass market section, customers will think it is not worth visiting. As sales of mass market paperbacks fell, big box retailers cut space dedicated to the format, limiting its distribution.

The format of mass market paperbacks was the subject of extensive research. More than 70% of print book buyers prefer mass market and it is the cornerstone of any retailers book offering, according to Swinwood. Consumers will often decide where to shop based on the quality of a store's book department and a good section has a variety of formats. Readers of the mass market tend to spend more on books than other readers.

80% of mass market buyers will buy for a spouse or child on the same trip, and a significant number of retail visits are driven by the need for books.

Publishers said they will continue to publish in mass market as long as consumers support it, but there was skepticism that rising inflation would lead to a rebound in sales for the inexpensive format. As the prices of books across all formats continue to increase, it seems more likely that consumers will purchase less books and use their local libraries more.

ReaderLink, the largest distributor of the format, is cautiously optimistic that the mass market will see a revival. David Barker, executive v-p and chief marketing officer at ReaderLink, said that the sales have been affected by supply chain issues and lack of printing capacity.