Understanding the various formats of a single book

Posted by J Wesley Baker on

One thing that can be confusing for someone who is starting out collecting books is telling the difference between the various formats of a book. Publishers try to maximize their profits by releasing a book in different sizes, with different bindings and at different price points, so a book is likely to be available in more than one format. (See the image below for a side-by-side comparison of five different formats of the same book.)

Trade Edition

Generally, the first publication is a trade hardback, targeted at those who want to be among the first to read a book and are willing to spend the premium price to do so. Comparatively speaking, the Trade hardback is the best bound and on the best paper, contributing to the higher price. It will also usually have a dust jacket (or wrapper) that is printed on heavier stock and/or coated paper. Collectors are often only interested in a Trade edition of a book, especially a first printing of the book. However, as we will see, there may be times when a collector is interested in the other formats in which a book has been printed.

Book Club Edition

Once sales for the Trade book begin to tail off, then the publisher will look at alternate printings. One alternative is a Book Club Edition (or BCE). They are often printed from the same plates as the Trade, but can be sold at a lower price because they are more cheaply bound and the paper may not be as good as the original. In addition, they are usually smaller than the original Trade publication (see the example in the image above) and the dust jacket may be a plain paper wrapper, rather than the coated stock of the Trade edition. Depending upon the publisher, some also have a small mark on the rear cover to identify it as a BCE.

It can be easy to be fooled by a BCE, especially since often the text is unchanged and may include a "First Edition" notice on the copyright page, even though it isn't one. Discriminating book buyers will learn to identify a BCE quickly, just by looking at the size and feeling the weight of the book -- and by the quality of the dust jacket, if it has one.

Another thing to be cautious about are books in which the bottom corner of the front flap of the dust jacket has been cut off. That is usually where the "Book Club Edition" notice is printed and an unscrupulous seller will trim that off to try to hide the fact it is a BCE.

There are always exceptions to the rule, though. For example, when Random House published their Landmark Books in the early 1950s they also distributed them through the Young Readers of American book club. In that case there is little difference in the quality of the bindings and paper. Later I will do a blog posting about that series and will get into the details at that time in how to tell the difference between the two releases.

While many collectors avoid BCEs and they usually sell at much lower prices on the secondary market, in some instances the first printing -- or even only printing -- may be a BCE. Or a BCE might be released to coincide with the release of a movie made from the book (such as this Diamonds are Forever BCE released as a tie-in for the James Bond film), resulting in a new movie tie-in dust jacket. These factors affect the value of the book for collectors, resulting in higher prices than the typical "bargain basement" prices for a BCE good only as a reading copy.

Diamonds are Forever Book Club Edition

Large Print

Large Print books are typset to accommodate those with vision impairment. As a result, the type size is bigger and the type style is often a sans-serif type to make reading easier. Unless one is a "completist" (that is, a collector who wants to have a copy of every edition of a book or author), Large Print books are not collectible.

Trade Paperback

Though people may assume a paperback is a paperback, there are two major formats. Trade Paperbacks are the larger of the two and generally are better bound. Once the sales for a book originally released in a hardback Trade edition has run their course, then the book is often re-released in Trade Paperback to provide a lower price-point for more readers. Also, non-fiction books only released in paperback are usually published as Trade Paperbacks.

Mass Market Paperback

Mass Market Paperbacks are intended to reach the largest number of readers. Some books are only released in this cheapest format. In the case of a book that began in a Trade Edition and then moved to a Trade Paperback, a Mass Market Paperback will be the final version released, typically quite a bit later than the larger, better produced and higher priced formats so as not to undercut the market for them.

It is hoped this overview will help you differentiate between editions when you are shopping for a book. Which you will want to buy depends on whether you are buying a book as a collectible or treasured copy or just want to read a book you are unlikely to keep.

Keep reading!

Quaint Book Shop is an online shop with used, out-of-print and antiquarian books such subjects as American national, regional and local history, religion, limited and first edition of Kenneth Roberts, vintage young adult chapter books and children’s illustrated books, particularly Little Golden Book first editions. It is a member of the Independent Online Booksellers Association (IOBA), which has a mandatory Code of Ethics for its members.

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