I have been thinking a lot lately about the cost of books, especially paperbacks as opposed to hardcover books. I have a feeling I am not alone on this: hardcover books are just too expensive for casual purchasing. For example, a 2008 bestselling novel The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein is currently selling for $5.86 in paperback, while the hardcover copy will cost you $16.31. Is there any reason to spend the extra money? In today’s poor economy, is there any justification for doing so?
I must confess, although I have described myself as an avid reader, I am not an avid book-buyer. Most of my reads are from the library these days or borrowed from friends. The only new books added to my personal collection in recent years have been gifts. I received two books for Christmas this year, and they happen to be reference-type books that I plan to use for years to come. Let’s consider the difference between the types of books. It is true that hardcover books are made to last. The paper quality is superior and the book should hold up for years of use. Paperbacks are easily damaged and usually show wear and tear on the spine after only one reading. The pages become yellow after only a few years. Hardcover books are more aesthetically pleasing than their paperback versions. They look better sitting on the bookshelf. I have some very old hardcover books in my collection that are still strong enough to be read including some printed in the late 1800’s. I also have some paperbacks that were purchased in my childhood that are coming unbound and nearly losing their pages. These books were printed in the early 1980’s.
So, if I were purchasing a book, would I choose hardcover or paperback? I have to say, it depends on the book. Most of the time, considering my budget, I’d be buying the paperback. Knowing it would be read once, and re-read a few times over the years if I particularly liked it, a paperback would be sturdy enough to meet my needs. I don’t consider most current books to be worthy of adding to a lifelong collection and passed down to my children as heirlooms. That being said, there are some books that I would definitely spring for the extra cost to buy in hardcover edition. I own a beautiful Nonesuch Press collector’s edition of my favorite novel, Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield. The leatherbound edition ranges in price from about $26 – $40. I could have purchased a cheap paperback copy for around $5, but the collector’s edition is worth every penny to me because I will read it many times. It will hold up to those multiple readings and still be beautiful, and I do want to pass it down to my children someday.
Are you still buying books? Do you like hardcovers, paperbacks or e-books? Have you sought out used copies of books in order to save money? I’d love to hear your opinions.