Paperback vs. Hardcover Books: Which Is Right For You?

book shelf filled with paperback and hardcover books

One choice self-published authors need to make is whether to go with a hardcover vs. paperback book cover. They both have their benefits — so which is right for you?

Let’s say you’ve finished writing your book and have a good idea of how you want the cover to look. Maybe the artwork is already complete. You’ve still got some questions to answer before you take your materials to production, including, what kind of cover will your book have?

While the content between the covers is the most vital part of your book, the paperback vs. hardcover question is important because it affects cost, quality, and durability, among other things. Ultimately, your choice depends on the market you are trying to reach, how much you want your book to cost, how many pages your book has, and where you plan to sell it.

Here is a look at the different factors to consider when deciding between hardcover vs. paperback when self-publishing your fabulous book.

What are the differences between paperback vs. hardcover books?

Most printed books will have exactly the same internal content, regardless of the cover type, but the exteriors can be very different.

Paperback books have soft, flexible covers made from thick paper stock or thin, pliable cardboard and are bound with a simple glue binding.

Hardcover books use a rigid cardboard cover that is 2.5 mm to 3.5 mm thick. The cardboard typically has a paper cover, though premium books can use cloth instead. Many hardcovers have glossy dust jackets with additional cover art on the outside and book summaries and reviews on the inside flaps.

Here are some of the most important qualities to evaluate in the paperback book vs hardcover comparison


Cost is usually the first consideration when looking to answer just about everything, including self-published books. However, the comparison is not as straightforward as you might think because the cheaper option is not always the most profitable.

Paperbacks are cheaper to print. Therefore, you can sell them for a lower price and still make a profit. Conversely, because of the higher cost of the materials needed to manufacture, hardcover books are more expensive to print, which is the reason they cost more to produce and purchase.

All other variables being equal, despite the price difference, the amount the author or publisher earns from each unit sold is similar, regardless of the type of cover. You need to decide if more people will purchase your book if the cover price is lower or if your audience prefers a premium hardcover.


Because softcover books are cheaper, they are generally more widely available. Bookstores typically carry both hardcover and paperbacks. However, many other retailers only stock paperbacks because they cost less at wholesale prices.

This is the reason you often see mass-market paperbacks at supermarkets and drugstores, while hardcovers are only available in bookshops or online retailers.


When it comes to function, paperback books vs. hardcover books are the same. Most varieties use a similar adhesive binding.

However, only hardcovers can have a sewn or stapled binding. Not only does this type of binding usually last longer, it is easier to fully open and lay flat. Paperback books typically need to be held, so they can be less comfortable to read in certain positions.


There are three levels of quality for printed books.

  • Mass-market paperbacks. These are the lowest quality in terms of the durability of their binding, the thinness of the cover, and the paper quality. The goal of these books is to keep costs low and pass the savings on to the readers. Publishers can also reduce costs by using simple cover art and not including forwards, indexes, or other extra sections commonly found in trade paperbacks and hardcover books.
  • Trade paperbacks. This type of paperback typically has higher-quality paper, better print, and a bigger size. They often have glossy covers with better artwork and thicker paper stock or cardboard. Some even have a French flap, which folds out and contains summaries, reviews, and other content.
  • Hardcovers. Hardcovers are the highest-quality books in the publishing industry. They typically have better bindings, premium cover art, and dust jackets. The paper is often thicker and the print larger.

Traditional publishers typically print hardcover versions of new books or new editions of popular books before they print paperbacks. Collectors and fans of the author will pay more for hardcovers because they want the highest-quality version of the book.

Paperback vs. Hardcover Books Image 01


Convenience is an essential aspect of the hardcover vs. paperback book debate. Paperback books are typically smaller, which may make them less comfortable to hold and harder to read. However, they’re much easier to transport. You can carry one or more in a backpack, suitcase, or purse quite easily. The pliable cover can bend without breaking, making it easier to carry.

Paperback books are also lighter, so they are more convenient and cheaper to ship. This consideration can be quite important if you plan to sell your book online.


Even though it is easier to stuff paperbacks into a backpack, you need to treat them with a certain amount of care. They are not as durable as hardcovers—how many paperback books of yours are missing parts of or the entire cover? How many have fallen victim to creasing or worn bindings over time?

In addition to the rigid shell protecting the pages, hardcovers have sturdier bindings that will stand up to repeated readings.

The pros and cons of paperback books

It is important to understand the advantages and disadvantages of paperbacks when deciding how to publish your book. Before you make a final decision, you should weigh how the pros and cons affect your individual situation.

Paperback pros

  • Convenience. Paperback books are flexible, smaller, and lightweight. These qualities make them easier for your readers to carry.
  • Shipping costs. Because they are lighter, they are easier and cheaper to ship and, therefore, better for selling online.
  • Cheaper to print. Paperbacks cost less than hardcovers to print, so you need less capital to get your book on shelves.
  • Wider acceptance. More retailers, including non-traditional booksellers, sell paperbacks than hardcovers. If you want to reach the widest audience, paperback is likely your best option.

Paperback vs. Hardcover Books image 2

Paperback cons

  • Less durable. Paperback covers bend easily, and the adhesive binding can only take so much abuse.
  • Less caché. Given a choice, paperbacks are not as attractive to book collectors or enthusiasts. Also, readers expect a lower price for paperbacks, which could lower your profit margins.

The pros and cons of hardcover books

Hardcovers have different benefits and drawbacks that should be factored into the hardcover vs paperback book debate.

Hardcover pros

  • Longevity. Hardcover books typically last longer than paperbacks. Their durability is due to the extra protection, but they also have better bindings and paper, both of which increase their lifespan.
  • Quality image. Collectors and reading enthusiasts often prefer hardcover books because they convey the image of quality. This extends to the cover art and content, which can include extras not printed in the paperback versions.
  • Better profits. Those who prefer hardcovers are typically willing to pay a premium for the extra quality. Therefore, you can often sell them without having to mark the price down.

Paperback vs. Hardcover Books image 3

Hardcover cons

  • Cost. If you opt for hardcover, each unit will cost more to print. This means either publishing fewer books or making a larger investment when publishing.
  • Less convenience. Hardcovers are harder to carry because they are heavier, larger, and inflexible, which is why many readers opt for paperback.
  • Higher shipping costs. If you plan to sell online, you may have to contend with higher shipping costs due to the extra size and weight.

Aren’t books usually available as paperbacks AND hardcovers?

As a reader, you might have noticed that most popular books come in both versions. The strategy of publishing both hardcover and paperback focuses on reaching the widest possible audience.

Collectors, fans of a particular author, and enthusiasts usually prefer the highest-quality version of the book available. Others who want to read a book immediately upon publication will also opt for hardcover books. For this reason, traditional publishers often release a hardcover version first.

Once they have sold the book to anyone willing to pay a higher price, publishers move on to paperback versions, typically starting with a trade paperback and moving on to a mass market version.

Self-publishing with BookBaby

BookBaby offers self-publishing packages and print-on-demand services for hardcover and trade paperback books. If you want to self-publish, you can choose the option that best suits your needs. We can also provide professional formatting for eBooks, which will allow you to reach an even wider audience of readers who prefer digital devices to physical books.

We all know readers will judge your book by its cover, which is why BookBaby offers complete cover design services for both physical books and eBooks. Along with editing and digital advertising services, we can serve as a complete resource for all your self-publishing production and book promotion needs.

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