Back when many of us learned how to read, the word “book” meant only one thing (no, not “romance novel;” that came later) – a traditionally published book. The kind we had to go to a brick and mortar bookstore to buy, or a physical library so that we could borrow it. Those were the options. Okay, some books could be purchased by mail, so there is that, but, for most of us, those were the options. Not so today, when readers can be as dazzled by the choice of formats to read in as the actual stories themselves. These days, it’s not only “what do I want to read?” but “how do I want to read it?” The answer? As varied as each individual reader. Let’s take a look.
We’ll start with the classic, the mass market paperback. Whether you call them “real books,” maybe “traditional books,” or, for the super technologically (or environmentally) minded, “dead tree books,” this is the format most people will imagine, whether they are romance readers or not, when they hear the term, “romance novel.” From slender category, traditional Regency or gothic formats, to huge doorstoppers like Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon, these books are easy to find, new or used, fit in purse, tote or briefcase, and are easily covered if one prefers to keep the cover a secret. These books, we can find new at bookstores, on shelves or spinners at our local libraries, and in a wealth of secondary markets from eBay to yard sales and everything in between. Want to pick up a new release while at the grocery store? Can do. Want to add a dose of romance therapy to the pharmacy run? Got that. Feel like getting oneself something special while picking up supplies for the household. clothes or toys for the kids and a new pet bed? Walk down that aisle and grab a new book right off the rack. There’s nothing like that new paperback smell (and if anyone ever makes an Eau de UBS perfume, I am there, baby) or the feel of holding a paperback, mass market or trade size, in one’s hands. Paperbacks, no matter what the epub revolution throws their way, aren’t going anywhere, and readers the world over are fine with that.
Hardcovers, as well, are here to stay. We see them in the same bookstores where we find our paperbacks. They rule the shelves at the library. They’re durable, maybe not as portable as their paperback cousins, but they have a pleasant heft to them, and the debate over whether to leave the dust jacket on or take it off when reading away from home is always good for lively discussion. While not the most prevalent form for romance novels, some of the bigger names do see hardcover publication first, and that format may attract new readers who might not pay attention to paperbacks…until they want to track down their new favorite author’s backlist, that is. Books are sneaky like that. Since the price of hardcovers is higher than paperbacks, some readers may find that the news of a favorite author’s newest, or the next installment in a popular series, being published in hardcover, means they may need to wait until the paperback edition releases.
Not always, however, because libraries live for these moments. Want to walk into a building full of books, fill your arms (or a sturdy tote) with every book you want to take home, and walk out without paying a dime? Libraries, my friend, they are a treasure trove, from the newest new releases, to classics we’ve always meant to try, plus the whole building (or close to it) is a quiet reading area, so what’s not to love? (Apart from late fees, so return materials on time, please and thank you.) Libraries also offer audiobooks (only safe way to dive into a good book while driving) which provide yet another choice of book format, the grownup equivalent of having Mom or Dad (or, in this case, a talented professional) read you a story. When audiobooks first came out, cassette tapes were the norm, then CDs, and now mp3 or streaming, which we can listen to on our desktop or laptop computers while we work, socialize or play games, on our ever-present phones, or even on our e-reading devices. Many libraries offer electronic lending as well, expanding the concept of library books beyond anyone’s wildest imaginations.
With the advent of the digital publishing revolution, our choices of reading formats seem almost limitless. We can choose from different brands and formats of e-reading devices, free apps that correspond to those devices for download to our phones, tablets or computers. Since authors have to work harder now than ever before to attract reader interest in a sea of ever-expanding choices, it’s easier than ever to fill our readers with free or very low cost e-books. Box sets tempt us with a whole shelf full of books on a favorite theme, for mere pocket change, and tempt us to look up the works of authors we might never have seen, had they not been partnering with the author whose name drew our finger to that buy button without a second thought.
Some readers have one favorite format, and see no need to try any other, while others happily flit from one form to another, even bouncing from paperback to library hardcover, to audiobook, to e-book within the same series. Whatever format the story comes in makes no difference to these readers, which is as valid as the stance of a reader who can’t fathom the thought of reading without pages to turn. In the end, the book’s format may only be the wrapping on the gift, the story, but how wonderful it is to have our choice of wrapping.
So, dear readers, I turn it now over to you. What format do you prefer for your reading? Are you a traditionalist, or did you embrace our electronic overlords (and ladies) with open arms, and never looked back? Are you perhaps like me, and welcome a great story in whatever format it finds you? Are certain formats better for different types of reading? One format for one genre, perhaps, and another for another? Are e-books an efficient way to dodge cover art that may not be your thing, or appropriate for reading in certain venues? Is the deciding factor for you something else we haven’t mentioned here? We want to hear about that, too. Pull up a chair in the comments section and tell us all about it. There’s room for everybody at this table.