Self-publishers have a range of options for book covers, making the decision between hardcover and paperback all the more difficult. And when trying to determine which cover type might sell more copies of your book, numerous audience considerations must be factored in. So which type sells more copies?

Paperback sells more copies, reaching a higher volume. However, hardcover books generate a higher return per book sold, so authors can make more money with fewer sales. Depending on the book genre, self-publishers should consider printing both cover types, as each appeals to a particular market. 

Notably, the game isn’t all about quantity when selling books. Ensuring your book is available in a suitable form for a specific type of reader is what ultimately sells more copies in the long run. Keep reading to discover why readers choose to buy one cover type over another and what you should consider when deciding which might be more profitable for you. 

Reasons People Buy Hardcover vs. Paperback Books

Presentation is the primary and most perceptible difference between hardcover and paperback books. Each tends to attract a specific type of buyer thanks to its defining characteristics and the associated benefits.

Generally, people prefer to buy hardcover books because:

  • Cover quality and designs are superior.
  • They look valuable.
  • They’re durable and feel more substantial.
  • They use crisp, pristine paper.
  • The print and image quality is outstanding.
  • They appear more authoritative.
  • Authors sign hardcover copies.
  • They’re great for collectors.
  • Dust jackets are usually a different “bonus” cover.

In contrast, people prefer to buy paperback books because:

  • They’re lightweight and portable, making them great for travel.
  • They’re inexpensive, allowing avid readers to enjoy more titles affordably. 
  • They’re easy to cuddle up with and hold.
  • They’re smaller and take up less space in bags or bookshelves. 
  • Pages can be annotated with less guilt and at a lower expense. 

Certainly, these aren’t the only reasons readers choose specific book covers, nor do they correlate with formal publishing rules. 

Yet, the key takeaway is that readers have particular and varied reasons for preferring one cover type over another and may not want to stray from that choice. Thus, authors may potentially miss out on readers by printing only one variety.

Selling Hardcover vs. Paperback: Factors To Consider

When deciding if you should sell hardcover or paperback editions, consider the following factors to determine which is right for you.

Costs Differences & Profitability

The difference in printing costs to print a book in paperback versus hardcover is rather significant. 

Generally speaking, hardcover costs more to print and has higher shipping fees than paperback books. However, printing paperback can be a more considerable investment up-front, and it doesn’t always pay out as handsomely.

For instance, a standard-sized paperback starts at around $2.50 per copy for a 100-page book, raising $0.02–$0.03 per page from there. Per this calculation, an average 250-page paperback would cost around $4.60 per copy. 

A retail list price of $14-$15 would yield approximately $5 per book in royalties. 

In comparison, hardcovers start at $9-$13 per copy for a 100-page book, depending on the binding, if you want a dust jacket, and whether you have color vs. black and white images. However, the cost raises nearly $.04 per page, with a 250-page color copy costing over $22 per copy to print. Still, the royalties would range from $4 to $11 per copy sold.

To get an estimated cost to print your book, check out the Cost Calculator from Gatekeeper Press.

Book Genre & Audience Type

Hardcover books hold a prominent place in the market, as some genres almost exclusively print hardcover copies, namely: 

  • Coffee table books 
  • Children’s books
  • Textbooks
  • Cookbooks

Notably, first-edition fiction books also see high hardcover sales. 

For instance, many traditional publishers are known to flood the market with ads for “the next best seller” and launch titles with a flashy dust jacket to attract buyers. 

However, avid readers have learned they can purchase these titles at half the price by waiting a year or so for the paperback to be released. In addition, a growing preference for paperback has started cutting into hardcover sales in recent years.

Yet, as you can see, both hardcover and paperback books have a built-in and dedicated audience waiting for you to sell them your story. 

Cover Designs & Overall Book Aesthetic

Cover art for hardcover books is far superior to that of paperback books. Simple designs will suffice for most paperback covers; however, the same graphics on a hardcover copy will appear lacking or uncertain. 

Remember to consider genre and audience, as a striking design created for a thriller novel may attract readers on a hardcover copy with a dust jacket but feel uninspired when translated to paperback. 

Do Self-Published Authors Make More Money Selling Paperback or Hardcover Books?

Most self-published authors make more money selling paperback books than hardcover at first. The notable exception is if the genre is more suited to hardcover, such as a cookbook. Also, authors with an established fan base may yield larger profits from hardcover books since royalties are higher. 

It’s also worth noting that you have the option to print mass-market paperback books. 

These paperbacks are of much lower quality in every possible way, including binding and paper texture. Still, this is a cost-effective way for unknown authors and first-time publishers to break into a new market.

Do Ebooks Sell More Copies Than Printed Books?

Ebooks do not sell more copies than printed books. Hardcover and paperback books sell approximately four times as many copies, holding popularity among literature fans over ebooks and audiobooks. Still, nearly 10% of readers exclusively read ebooks, so authors may want to consider this avenue also. 

Final Thoughts

Generally speaking, authors tend to sell more copies of paperback books over hardcover. However, hardcover copies usually bring in higher royalties per copy sold. 

Beyond what cover type is best for your genre, you must also figure out cost/profit calculations and consider how people will interact with your book. Ultimately, you may decide that you want to print your book in both hardcover and paperback, so you don’t miss out on any potential readers, or profit.

Categories: Publishing

Oliver Adams

Letter Review was founded by Oliver Adams, who is a PhD candidate in Creative Writing, casual academic, and guest lecturer at the University of New South Wales. Oliver Adams has had short stories published in leading literary journals such as Overland, Southerly, Seizure, and TEXT. He has had novels long listed for major awards such as the KYDUMA, has received government funding to produce plays from Create NSW and screenplays from Screen NSW, and has performed / produced professional work at major theatrical venues such as the Sydney Opera House.