Books have been published in a variety of formats for centuries—from papyrus scrolls in ancient Egypt to scrollable e-books in the twenty-first century. But in some respects, it seems like things haven’t changed as much as you would think.
The look of a printed page is replicated in modern e-books using e-paper technology, much like how early printed books were meticulously illuminated to resemble medieval books. Even modern hardcovers are a direct descendant of the ancient codex.
That being said, these seemingly ordinary objects have a lot of history behind them that you may or may not be aware of.
Hardcovers are hardbound books with sewed spines, also referred to as “trade cloth” books. When you purchase brand-new, these books often include detachable dust jackets to safeguard the covers.
The majority of brand-new books first become available in hardcover, then around a year later, in paperback. Particularly with popular titles, hardcovers—especially those with reinforced library binding—hold up better over time for repeated borrowers, making them great for libraries.
Ancient book formats varied between numerous types of parchment and papyrus scrolls until the invention of the hardback. Although the durability of these scrolls and book rolls increased, usability issues persisted.
Hardcovers are now used because of their longevity and relative ease. Their sturdy, rectangular shapes perform well on bookcases, and they were essentially the only trim size available up until World War II.
Because hardcovers still sell, publishers release them first even today. They are more enduring than paperbacks so readers tend to favor them. Hardcovers may be preferred by bookshops too since they are bigger and easier to see on shelves.
But—you might be asking—aren’t hardcovers more expensive to print?
Surprisingly, publishers unquestionably prefer hardcovers because they’re more lucrative, frequently selling for twice the price of a paperback without requiring twice as much production.
Hardcover releases followed by paperback releases provide publishers with two significant marketing opportunities for any particular title, doubling the likelihood that you’ll own that book.
Publishers must decide how many copies of a new hardcover book to order based on anticipated sales. A book’s print run is the total number of copies created using a single printing press configuration. A failing book might only get one printing, while a winner might see 50 or more.
Since publishers must essentially make an educated guess as to how well a book will sell, determining the number of copies to print is an imprecise science. The size of a print run is not standardized. When a first print run is exhausted, the book is either reprinted in which case the new copies are referred to as a second printing or it is regarded as being out of print.
Ultimately, the modern hardcover book is a direct ancestor of the old codex. They are regarded as being more distinguished than paperback books because they are more resilient and more expensive. Publishers typically request a hardcover print run, followed by a paperback release.
However, the hardcover book was the preeminent format in the book world for thousands of years, whether it was an ancient codex or its modern version. Even though the 1930s saw the debut of a novel format known as the paperback, which was hailed as revolutionary, the hardcover book format continues to survive and thrive along bookshelves everywhere.