Paperback vs. Hardcover Books: Choosing the Right Cover

Publishing a book involves a myriad of decisions, and one of the pivotal choices involves deciding between paperback vs hardcover books. Each format carries its own set of advantages and considerations, influencing everything from production costs to retail pricing and the overall presentation of the work. 

In this guide, we’re going over the ins and outs of self-publishing hardcover vs paperback books. Take a look and learn how to make the right decision for your budget and vision!

In the meantime, if your looking to print either paperback or hardcover books – or just about anything else really – you’ll want to get in touch with Print Bind Ship. We’re the experts when it comes to book printing and binding. We also offer book fulfillment services, ensuring your books are printed, stored, and shipped to customers as orders come in. Get a free quote here!

What Is a Paperback Book?

Paperback books, or softcover books, were originally intended as an inexpensive way to keep printing a book after the hardcover version was already on the market for a while. These books are made with a paperboard cover, and pages are held to the binding with an adhesive. So, they are literally paperbacks.

The sizes are typically 6 inches by 9 inches or 5 ½ inches by 8 ½ inches. Format paperback, or mass-market paperback, is a style usually reserved for the lowest-priced books and are typically romance novels. They’ll have a smaller trim size and feature lower quality, thinner paper for the covers.

Key features of a paperback book include:

  • Flexible Cover: The cover of a paperback book is made of a softer material, usually paper or cardstock. This flexible cover is less durable than a hardcover but makes the book lightweight and portable.
  • Glue Binding: Most paperback books are bound using a method called perfect binding, where the pages are glued to the spine. This is a cost-effective binding method suitable for larger print runs.
  • Economical Printing: Paperbacks are often more cost-effective to produce than hardcovers, making them a popular choice for mass-market books, especially fiction, non-fiction, and trade paperbacks.
  • trade paperbacks.
  • Portability: The lightweight and flexible nature of paperback books makes them easy to carry, making them a preferred choice for readers who want a portable option for travel or everyday use.
  • Affordability: Paperback books are generally more affordable for consumers than hardcovers. This makes them accessible to a broader audience and is often a preferred format for budget-conscious readers.

What Is a Hardcover Book?

A hardcover book, also known as a hardback or cloth-bound book, is a type of book characterized by its durable and rigid cover. Unlike paperback books, which have a flexible and paper-thin cover, hardcovers have a cover made of thick, rigid material such as cardboard, often wrapped in cloth, leather, or decorative paper.

They usually come with a dust jacket over the outside that features some manner of art or graphic design. Sizes for a book of fiction are usually 6 inches by 9 inches or 8 ½ inches by 11 inches, but specialty or coffee table books are often much larger.

Key features of a hardcover book include:

  • Sturdy Cover: The cover of a hardcover book provides additional protection to the pages within. It is designed to be durable and resistant to wear and tear compared to the softer covers of paperback books.
  • Sewn or Glued Binding: Hardcover books can have either sewn or glued bindings. Sewn bindings involve sewing the pages together before attaching them to the cover, providing additional strength. Glued bindings use adhesive to attach the pages to the cover.
  • High-Quality Paper: Hardcover books often use higher-quality paper compared to paperbacks. This can enhance the overall feel of the book and contribute to its durability.
  • Premium Appearance: The sturdy and often decorative nature of hardcovers gives them a premium and more formal appearance. Hardcover books are commonly used for special editions, collector’s items, and gifts.
  • Longevity: Hardcover books are built to last, making them suitable for long-term ownership and storage. They are often preferred for reference books, textbooks, and editions that are expected to withstand frequent use.

Comparing Paperback and Hardcover Books

Now that we’ve discussed the physical differences let’s talk about why you would choose one or the other. What is the hardcover readership interested in regarding their reading experience? Why might you choose to publish in paperback instead?

Printing Cost

You probably assumed that hardcover books are more expensive to print, and this is true. The associated costs can be up to five times more to print in hardcover vs. paperback.

Authors can still benefit from printing in hardcover because they can charge much more, assuming their readers will be willing to pay. For art books, coffee table books, and other types that are intended to last and lay flat when opened, hardcovers would be expected.

Cost to Consumer

Because hardcover books are more expensive and those costs are usually passed on to the readers, authors must carefully consider whether they’ll lose sales with hardcover versions. Unless your book is intended to show off high-quality artwork, you’ll probably be better off releasing a cheaper paperback.


Think about where paperbacks are most useful. They are lighter and fit in bags more easily. Readers generally prefer paperbacks when flying or taking public transportation because of this portability. Hardcover books are meant to live on bookshelves and stay in one location. They are meant to be looked at as much as they are read.


Both paperback and hardcover books have their adherents, and you need to be in tune with your readers’ desires. If your readers are the type to be willing to pay more for a hardcover book that will take a place of honor on their shelves, then it’s worth the added cost for you to print them.

However, if your readership typically burns through books and is more interested in the content than the wrapper, you’ll serve them better with inexpensive paperbacks.


Since it’s more expensive to print in hardcover in every way, from manufacturing and shipping to renting retail space, printers generally have higher minimums for authors who are interested in printing in hardcover.

Many printers won’t even print in hardcover for self-published authors. This restriction means that many authors who want to have a physical release instead of just an eBook turn to paperback printing.


Traditionally, works of fiction would make their debut as a hardcover version first, and later on, a paperback version would hit the market once the hardcover sales started to trail off. However, with the rise of self-publishing and the costs associated with it, many authors choose paperback and paperback only.

Increasingly so, hardcover versions are retained for classic books that maintain a certain aesthetic or for books that focus on artwork rather than text. If the book contains information that can change or update rapidly, such as science, news, health, or tech, then paperback is more appropriate because new editions will need to be printed more often.

Should I Print My Book on Paperback or Hardcover?

Weigh your options carefully! Printing in hardcover can be more of a gamble if your readership doesn’t appreciate the increased cost. You need to know your readers and understand the market.

Keep in mind that traditionally a book goes from hardcover to paperback but not the other way around. If a publisher likes the sales of your hardcover book, they might buy the rights to print a paperback version. They won’t do the opposite.

A Choice that Isn’t Hard: Print Bind Ship

Which will you choose? Paperback or hardcover? Hardcovers last longer, look better, and could lead to a traditional publishing deal, but it’s more expensive to not only produce but to purchase as well.

On the flip side, paperbacks are cheaper to make. They are also intended to sell in high volumes, but they just aren’t as attractive or easy on the eyes, nor do they last as long. Whichever route you choose, Print Bind Ship can get your books into customers’ hands! We take care of all the grunt work. From printing and storing to shipping the books, all those steps are on us. Contact us for a free quote for a project you have in mind!


Do readers prefer hardcover or paperback?

It depends on the genre. Art and coffee table books are usually hardcover, while fiction, science, health, or tech books lean more toward paperback-only copies.

Why is hardback cheaper than paperback?

Paperback books are usually smaller and use less raw materials to make. Hardcover books are intended to last longer, so they use hardier, higher-quality materials.

How long do paperbacks last?

The average paperback book lasts between 10 years and 20 years. Even if they aren’t handled frequently, the glue will inevitably weaken over time, and pages will come loose naturally.

Why are some paperbacks more expensive?

Some paperback books can be more expensive due to factors like being part of a popular series or being authored by a well-known writer with high demand. Additionally, recently released paperback editions may initially carry a higher price until the book has been out for a longer period.

What is the main difference between paperback and hardcover books?

Paperback books have a thick paper or paperboard cover, while hardcover books have a rigid cover made of cardboard covered in cloth, plastic, or leather. Hardcovers are generally more durable and longer-lasting.