Today, readers have so many more options for how they may consume reading material than we used to. Whether you’re interested in a book or a magazine, you can read it in print, read it online, or listen to a dramatic reading through your favorite podcast app.
You can browse massive libraries of digital collections and probably buy a digital copy of your favorite book for just a few bucks. Why then, are publishers still bothering to print hardcover books?
Hardcovers are bulky and expensive compared to digital options and paperbacks, but they continue to sell. Why is that? There are several potential explanations.
For starters, books remain preferable to digital copies for many readers because of their physicality. Their appeal lies in:
- The feel. Some people just like the feeling of holding a book in their hands. Touching a sheet of paper and physically turning it is a rewarding sensory experience, and the smell of a new book isn’t something you can replicate with a digital device – at least not yet. Readers who appreciate the sensual experience of reading will continue to rely on hardcovers almost exclusively.
- The look. Some people like the look and image of hardcover books, so they prefer them for their collection. If you have a large bookshelf with hundreds of copies of your favorite novels and reference materials, you’ll want all of them to look as prominent and elegant as possible. Hardcover books tend to have a thicker spine, which creates a more impressive visual presentation on a shelf. They’re also more likely to exist in a standardized format.
- Eye strain. Screens are largely unavoidable in modern society, but if you stare at them too much, you could end up with major problems on the basis of eye strain. Computer vision syndrome is a growing problem among people who have to stare at screens for their job, so individuals who want to avoid such an outcome typically prefer to pick up physical copies of books when they can.
- Memory. Studies show that people remember more when they absorb information on paper, rather than a screen. There are many possible explanations for this, including the distraction of ads and other web design elements that can interfere with user attention. In any case, most people find they retain more of the content when they carry a hardcover book in their hands.
The Old Stigma of Paperbacks
It’s also worth noting that when paperbacks first appeared on the market, they came with a stigma. They were a cheaper and more portable option for millions, and allowed readers to travel with the book in a pocket and read it on the go.
Because the books were cheaper to produce and to buy, they were regarded as inferior in other ways. Some people also criticized them for falling apart too easily.
Hardly anyone looks down on paperbacks in the same way anymore, but vestigial attitudes persist. Hardcovers seem more dignified and respectable than paperbacks, as well as electrical impulses on a screen.
There’s no question that hardcover books are more durable than their paper counterparts. The cover itself is able to withstand a much higher level of abuse. The pages are bound in a more secure way, so you can read the book hundreds of times without worrying about the pages falling out.
If the volume stands on your shelves for many years, it should remain in better condition if it has a cloth binding. Thus, hardcover books can survive for multiple generations, and therefore work much better as collectibles and family heirlooms.
Profitability for Companies
Hardcover books also stay in circulation in part because they’re so profitable. Companies can print hardcover books for as little as a few dollars per unit, but sell them for $30 or more. Because there’s often a hungry audience of loyal readers eager to enjoy the latest release, the first wave of buyers is often willing to shell out more for a hardcover as well.
On top of that, rolling out a hardcover release, followed by a paperback release six months to a year later enables publishing companies to capitalize on at least two release events (and two largely differing audiences). Thanks to the extra money realized by hardcover edition sales, publishers are incentivized to keep the format around.
The Only Downsides
Despite all of the above, hardcover books aren’t perfect. They’re heavy. They’re bulky and more difficult to transport. They’re also more expensive than their paperback counterparts, since they’re sold for several times the price.
Despite their drawbacks, hardcover books retain a number of undeniable strengths. Because of those, hardcover books will likely remain part of the publication and distribution cycle for decades to come, if not indefinitely.
Not everyone prefers the durable and demanding reading experience of hardcover books, but that hasn’t appeared to dampen hardcover sales.