One of the most obvious differences between a hardcover or softcover book is, you may have already guessed, the cover! A hardcover is a book bound with rigid protective covers, typically of cardboard covered with cloth, heavy paper, or sometimes leather. They may have flexible sewn spines although in recent times hardcover books may also have glued spines. Hardcover books are usually more expensive then their paperback counterparts, but they are usually of a more durable quality too.
Copyright by Joe Abercrombie
A paperback is characterized by a thick paper or paperboard cover and often held together with glue rather than stitches or staples. Today we have two major forms of paperbacks - mass-market paperbacks and trade paperbacks.
A mass-market paperback is a small format, commonly released after the hardback edition, and in addition to bookshops, it can often be found in non-traditional bookselling locations such as airports or supermarkets too.
A trade paperback has a larger format than the mass-market one. If it is a softcover edition of a previous hardcover edition, the text pages are normally identical to the text pages in the hardcover edition and the book is also the same size as the hardcover edition. The quality of the paper is usually higher than that of a mass-market paperback.
Trade paperbacks are typically priced less than hardcover books and higher than mass-market paperbacks. Interesting tidbit - virtually all ARCs sent for promotional and review purposes are issued in trade paperback format. As I've only received finished copies for review so far I can't tell if this is true, but if anyone knows more about this please let me know!
If you think the hardcover comes first in publishing new books, guess again. These days many titles have their first editions in paperback and never receive a hardcover printing. Paperback editions of books are often the preferred choice when a publisher decides to release a book in a low-cost format, especially with new authors or when a book is not expected to be a major seller where the publisher is reluctant to make a large investment.
Personally I love the look of hardcovers, but not the price. And when it comes to paperbacks, I've honestly never given the difference between mass-market and trade format much thought. To me it's the content that counts, but admittedly, having a series with one book "standing out" because it's the wrong format isn't making me all that happy either.
What are your preferences? Hardback or paperback? Mass-market or trade? Or are your buying decisions guided by different aspects such as book covers or price?