One thing I've noticed while browsing bookstores is that hardcover books tend to cost more than softcover ones.

Oftentimes a hardcover book that's five times the price of a paperback doesn't have five times the mass of one.

Is it the manufacturing technique that creates this price difference?

Why do hardcover books retail for multiple times the amount of softcover books?

  • 2
    Because they cost more to make?
    – Cryst
    Commented Aug 10, 2011 at 11:06
  • 1
    Because hard cover books can be kept for longer time and soft cover books may get torn within a short span of time..:)
    – Sweet72
    Commented Sep 16, 2013 at 15:11
  • Soo I dont really know why, but you can see that, for example, the Bioshock book is 5.70 quid, and the hardcover is 547 QUID!!!!!!! amazon.co.uk/John-Shirley-BioShock-Rapture-Hardcover-x/dp/…
    – user15356
    Commented Sep 27, 2015 at 20:08

9 Answers 9


The article Breakdown of book costs shows an example of the costs involved in making a hardcover book:

Based on a list price of $27.95

$3.55 - Pre-preduction - This amount covers editors, graphic designers, and the like
$2.83 - Printing - Ink, glue, paper, etc
$2.00 - Marketing - Book tour, NYT Book Review ad, printing and shipping galleys to journalists
$2.80 - Wholesaler - The take of the middlemen who handle distribution for publishers
$4.19 - Author Royalties - A bestseller like Grisham will net about 15% in royalties, lesser known authors get less. Also the author will be paying a slice of this pie piece to his agent, publicist, etc.

This leaves $12.58, Money magazine calls this the profit margin for the retailer, however when was the last time you saw a bestselling novel sold at its cover price.

Salon.com also has an interesting post on what makes books cost as much as they do. According to that article, the physical cost of the book comes from the quality of paper, the printing, and the binding. That accounts for about 20% of the book's final price. The rest covers the publisher's other costs (editing staff, promotions, etc.), distribution costs, and booksellers' profit. The author also gets a cut — typically around 10% or 15% of the price.

There are other considerations in book pricing, but they seem to have more to do with how the bookselling industry works than with the book format, so I'm omitting them here. The Salon article goes into more details, though, and there is also some interesting information from the desk of Jane Galt about hardcover pricing if you look past the political bent of some of the comments.

I wasn't able to find a detailed breakdown of the costs involved in making a paperback, so I looked at lulu.com — a self-publishing service — to get a ballpark figure. I ran their manufacturing price calculator on roughly the same parameters.

For a paperback, I used 100 pages of standard paper, black & white printing, US Trade size (6" x 9"), bound with the "perfect bound" binding. The manufacturing cost on that came out to US $6.50 per book.

For a hardcover, I used the same parameters except for binding. With casewrap binding, the cost was US $15 per book and including a dust jacket bumped that up to US $16.

So it seems to me that if we assume that marketing and distribution costs are roughly the same for all types of books, the production costs would account for a good part of the price discrepancy.

  • 2
    Your analysis covers the cost difference. The OP was asking about the price difference. When a hardback is priced at $40 and the paperback at $8 (1 year later) the main difference is because the hardback has come out earlier. In particular, from wikipedia, "Hardcover books are also marginally more expensive to manufacture and usually much more so to purchase." (emphasis added)
    – Kirk Woll
    Commented Aug 10, 2011 at 4:30
  • @Kirk Wikipedia's assertion isnt't supported by anything (unless I'm misreading it, which is possible). My analysis could be wrong too, but I think it'd take either a better analysis or a more definitive source to say for sure.
    – Adam Lear
    Commented Aug 10, 2011 at 12:07
  • 8
    I've gotta disagree with this, not because of the math or anything. The reason hardcover books cost more is because they are the first to be published, the reason they are the first to be published is because they can drive a higher price point. Trades and Mass Market come later to appeal to people who choose not to buy the more expensive book. This was all described to me by my boss at Waldenbooks 10 years ago and I don't imagine this part of the industry has changed all that much, even though many of the major players are bankrupt. Commented Aug 10, 2011 at 14:26
  • Also, hardcovers don't on average retail for much more than trades after a few years. Bookstores often need to get these off their shelves and will offer huge discounts. You only pay 3x for hardcover books when they're new - or online where shelving isn't as big a deal. Unless the book is extremely popular (i.e. Harry Potter) you rarely see trades and hardbacks of the same book next to each other on any given bookstore shelf, even though they are published within a year of each other. Commented Aug 10, 2011 at 14:32
  • @Peter Yeah, that's where things get complicated. Some books are never released in paperback (trade or mass market), some are never released in hardcover, some get heavily discounted to get people in the door, etc. I was trying to keep the comparison as simple as possible, although I realize that that might be trivializing it a lot.
    – Adam Lear
    Commented Aug 10, 2011 at 14:37

In addition to the other answers, there's also a price discrimination component. A product is optimally priced at the intersection of its supply and demand curves, but of course, there are always people who are willing to pay more than the market price. People who are willing to pay more are often offered nicer products that give them the excuse to spend the extra money. The book market is no exception.

  • 1
    An excellent point - I was going to say somewhat the same thing, but didn't know the correct term for it.
    – TML
    Commented Aug 11, 2011 at 0:43
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    +1. Hardcover books cost so much more because people will pay so much more. Commented Aug 11, 2011 at 18:45
  • 1
    "Yup. "Segmentation of the market" they call it. And they will ignore sunk costs and segment all the way down to the marginal production cost (which for e-books, can be very low indeed) if the demand slackens.
    – dmckee
    Commented Feb 23, 2012 at 23:26

Because the hardcover books come out sooner than the paperback books. It's like the difference between a movie being released in the theaters and coming out on DVD. In both cases, you pay to get it early.

Though hardcover books are of higher quality, I doubt the manufacturing costs play a significant role in the price difference.

  • 3
    Do you have any links to cost analysis that backs that up? We want Stack Exchange to be a source of factual information backed up by references and experience, not just opinions. Thanks!
    – Adam Lear
    Commented Aug 10, 2011 at 1:43
  • Citations are nice, and I would provide it if I could. Lack of such doesn't actually make an answer incorrect. (Nor is it by any means required on SE sites.)
    – Kirk Woll
    Commented Aug 10, 2011 at 4:34
  • 1
    It is potentially incorrect if you are guessing. A citation would make it a better answer. You are right in saying no proof is required, but it's always a strong "nice to have".
    – Adam Lear
    Commented Aug 10, 2011 at 12:11
  • 2
    This is the reason, anyone who has ever worked at a bookstore knows it. First you get the hardcover, then you get the trade paper, then you get the mass market paperback. Commented Aug 10, 2011 at 13:25

Since many books are written based on an advance to the author from the publisher, I imagine there's also a component of them trying to regain that advance earlier in the sales cycle.


My take on this is "because they can".

Hardcover books are pain to carry and it annoys me that hardcover books are always published first and that softcover books are published 6 months to a year later.

For example Unseen Academicals by Sir Terry Pratchett

  • Hardcover cost £10.99 released 1 Oct 2009
  • Mass Market Paperback cost £5 released 10 Jun 2010

I think publishers do this to maximise the return on a book and increase the shelf life of a book.


I would imagine because they're bigger, heavier, of higher quality, etc. edit: i stated this because production costs would be higher, the shipping/transportation costs are higher, the storage and shelving cost is higher. also hard backs seem, to me, to last longer.


Prices of goods have nothing to do with cost of production. They are entirely determined by what people will pay for them. Goods that cannot be produced for less than people will pay for them simply do not get made.

Hardcovers are a case of market segmentation. You have rich consumers and you have poor consumers. To maximize your return you want to sell to both, but you want to charge rich consumers a higher price. To accomplish this, you find a way to segment the market so that rich people are willing to pay a lot for your product even though it is also available to poor people for a lower price.

This is everywhere. Organic foods segment the food market. Yellow label generic products segment the other aisles of the supermarket. Luxury badges segment the car market. Hardcovers segment the book market.


The hardcover version is the full version of the book. It costs full price. It is sold on the first day the book is available and marketed to the most enthusiastic readers who are willing to pay full price, and who typically want the prestige and ruggedness of hardcover. It is not designed to be cheap. It’s designed to be prestigious and enduringly rugged.

The paperback version is the cheap version of the book. It is cheaper because it is primarily designed to be cheap. The thick cardboard is replaced with thin cardboard, the thick paper with thin paper, the color illustrations with black and white, and so on. It is available about a year after the hardcover and is marketed to readers who are either less enthusiastic than the hardcover readers, or more budget-conscious.

An analogy for this in movies is the way that a movie is released in 8K quality for $15 per ticket at the cinema on day one, and then a year later you can watch the same movie in 2K quality on Netflix as part of your $10 monthly subscription. The people who are most excited to see the movie want to see it in higher quality and don’t care that it is $15 per ticket. The people who watch it a year later are less excited and want to see it cheaply and don’t care that it is lower quality.

As an example, “The Wolf of Wall Street” was released:


Supply and demand mostly. The quality of the book is generally lower for paperbacks. The quantity printed may be fewer for hard covers, so the manufacture cost is higher per book.

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