Video: Why Publishers Love Hardcover Books

by | Jan 5, 2012

Novelist Tess Collins entrusted me with the design of her new book, Helen of Troy. It’s a “quirky and lively retelling of the Greek legend” but set in small-town America.

Copies of the book recently arrived at my office, and looking at them I thought they provided the perfect way to illustrate something about how books are produced, and why publishers love hardcover books so much.

In the video, I talk about:

  • “Book blocks” and what they are
  • What hardcover and trade paper books have in common
  • The financial incentives in favor of publishing hardcovers
  • Why it is that publishers have delayed paperback publication for so long, and what might be driving the desire to hold e-book versions as well.

The video runs 6:47, so it’s a pretty quick look, but I think you’ll get something from it. Video instruction has some major benefits when compared to text, and here I get to show you directly parts of the book that might take a lot more explaining.

Here’s the video.

(If the video doesn’t appear below, please refresh your screen.)

Have you thought about doing a hardcover printing of your book? Why or why not? I’d love to hear about it.

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Kim Hemphill

    Hello Joel,

    You continue to amaze me on all your knowledge on the book industry. I have had the privilege to have two private one on one sessions with you and it has been very rewarding. These sessions were well worth the time and money. I also bought your Book Launch Toolkit and it has equally been extremely valuable to me. I think I paid $150 for it and have gotten $1,500 in advice and direction.

    I do have to say I have new questions every day going through the process of launching my first book. I can’t do a daily session with you for one or two new questions so I come to your site and now it’s no surprise to me, the answers I need, are there for me.

    I now need to be educated in printing and this was very troublesome to me. Here again I go to your site, as I have learned I can trust you and your wisdom. All my worries and concerns have been answered. Joel you have made this complicated process so much easier. With out you, I would have to do the trial and error method because I did not know where to go find a solid answer. This could have derailed my whole goal of being a successful author.

    At 65 years old and fearing failure because I am a novice, you sure have made this first book a fun project. God Bless You!

    Thanks again for all your help.

  2. Edward Stanko

    Quick question about reprinting a previous edition or hardcover:

    If a book is “out of print,” if the publisher (or any publisher) wanted to reprint it on demand do they have to get the author’s permission to do that? If they can get that permission, would they then be able to reprint? What about reprinting it as a hardcover, or “cloth?”

  3. Stephen W

    Very informative video Joel, thank you. I have benefited from reading your blog since about November 2010 and it is amazing how much things have progressed in so short a time. I recently released a non-fiction book via Lightning Source, using hardcover and matte cover. The set up was not as difficult as I was anticipating. Essential tool is the Adobe Distiller, absolutely necessary. LS is very good about putting it in the various channels too.

    Thank you for all your good work–I own your Self Pub manual and consult it regularly, especially for your inspirational words! Best wishes, SW,

    editor of The Lightwood Chronicles

    • Suz K

      Hi everyone, I’m a book designer in the process of narrowing down the printing options for an author. We’re leaning towards Lightning Source, but upon receiving some samples, are less than enthusiastic about the quality of the glossy dust jackets. Stephen W, you mentioned you chose the matte jacket. LS did not have a matte jacket sample on hand to send me, so I’d like your opinion. I did receive a matte paperback sample, does anyone know if the matte jacket sheen is comparable?

      Also, the inside text of all samples has a sheen from the toner that offset printing does not. What is your experience with this issue? Is this considered something of a ‘tip-off’ that the book is self-published or POD? The quality of the finished book is particularly important to this author. I appreciate any input as I continue my research.

      • Joel Friedlander

        Hi Suz,

        I’ve printed quite a few books at LSI and have been pretty happy with their product. None of them has had a problem with “sheen” from the toner, but you need to set your expectations lower than they would be for a comparable offset book in any event. You might get some sheen if you have a lot of ink coverage or large photos, but those aren’t that appropriate for this type of printing anyway.

        Anyone who’s seen an LSI book before can tell where it’s printed, just open to the last page and check the bar code.

        LSI produces books that are fine for trade paperbacks. If your client is really looking for something more than that, you might keep looking. There are other digital printers with a better range of products, but they won’t be able to offer the print on demand distribution that LSI does.

  4. Marla Markman

    That video was indeed very informative. It was quick, yet provided some solid information. I like learning the industry lingo. Even for an old hand like me, I still learn new info from you. Thanks, as always!

  5. Johanna van Zanten

    Hi Joel,
    Thanks for that vey instructive and clear video. Have not yet started, sitting on the fence, but my first novel is ready for publication, so I have been informing myself on how to get it to market.
    I like the idea of doing both as you mentioned in the video, ebook and a certain number in print, so those few might as well be in hard cover with those profit margins in mind. But first things first: get it out there.
    Thanks again for your ongoing generosity of sharing your knowledge.

  6. Michael A. Robson

    Um. Because… they own the printing presses? Come on… ;)

  7. Michael E. Newton

    I liked the look of that matte paperbook. Looks much better than the glossy I’ve been using, at least with that book. What is your experience, Joel? Is the matte generally better than the glossy at LSI?

    • Joel Friedlander

      Michael, it’s a good finish and I would recommend it. The matte finish does away with the shiny and slick feel that some digital book covers have.

      • Michael E. Newton

        If I do my next book with LSI, do you know if I can select matte finish and then switch to glossy if I don’t like the way matte looks.

        And now that I’m printing with both LSI and CS, does it make sense to both in glossy because CS does not offer matte covers yet.

        • Joel Friedlander

          Yes, you can switch from matte to glossy with no problem. I don’t see a problem doing both finishes, since buyers only see one copy of the book at a time and the finish of the cover doesn’t really affect the value of what they’ve bought.

  8. George Angus


    You are made for video, sir. This was great. Informative and relaxed. Felt like I was in your office having a conversation.

    I appreciate your thoughts about the value added aspect of having some hardback versions printed.



    • Joel Friedlander

      Thanks, George. This is the first one I’ve made sitting down, and I continue to enjoy the whole video format, appreciate the feedback.

  9. SL Clark

    Yes, we have thought of it (esp children), but the many associated costs & logistics are the driving factors. The demise of brick & mortar shops also weighs in. Finally, genre fiction (our main titles) is like popcorn, rapidly transitioning to electronic.

    • Joel Friedlander

      SL, that’s what I’ve been seeing also. Until you get traction with e-publishing your genre fiction, many authors of genre fiction are bypassing print books entirely.

      • SL Clark

        The B&N news of the Sterling sale is troublesome as well. How long before they close up most retail locations, selling Nook to John Malone’s Liberty Media and not be the last to get out of Sim City?

  10. Michael N. Marcus

    My Stories I’d Tell My Children (but maybe not until they’re adults) was initially published as a POD trade paperback, and then — due to reader requests — in multiple ebook formats.

    Some readers of those books asked for a hardcover for gift giving, and I released that version last month.

    I also think (hope?) that the hardcover will be more impressive to reviewers, and book award judges.

    On a purely emotional level, I really like the look and feel of the hardcover with a jacket. It just seems more like a “real book” to me. My mother was impressed, too. I reformatted the book for a slightly larger page size, and had my cover artist modify the cover design in several ways, including creating flaps. I also added a half-title page, which was not in the original paperback.

    When I started self-publishing in 2008 I was a renegade. I put page numbers in all of the front matter. I have since become more traditional, and even added a half-title to the paperback of “Stories.” However, so far I have shunned roman numerals up front.

    Tip: I deliberately priced the (POD) hardcover to give me a lower-than-normal markup so it would be priced competitively with hardcovers in the same genre from the major publishers. The price printed on the cover is $22.95 (like similar books), but the unprinted price is $18.95, and Amazon has discounted it to $16.85. That’s just slightly above the paperback’s $15.95 price.

    Michael N. Marcus (information, help and book reviews for authors)
    — Create Better Books, with the Silver Sands Publishing Series:

    — Just out: deluxe hardcover edition of “Stories I’d Tell My Children (but maybe not until they’re adults),”

  11. Sharon Beck

    You really got me thinking about creating a hardcover version for one particular book we are just starting on. While I do understand how POD gets into the distribution system, I do not yet know how to get offset- printed books into the distribution system.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Sharon, if you want to distribute to bookstores, you’ll need a book distributor. If you want to sell online, you can open merchant accounts with the retailers you want to work with (self-distribution) and their guidelines will explain how to set up titles and ship books.



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