My hardbacks hit me in the face…

Do your customers prefer hardbacks or paperbacks?  Do you even sell hardbacks?
Obviously, price is a big factor when customers make the decision.  We sell both hardbacks and paperbacks at Gottwals Books (, and we often hear the question, “Isn’t that out in paperback yet?” because someone would rather not spend $15 for a new release.
hardcoversMany of my customers, though, love the feel of a hardback.  They also like how they can make them stay open while they read.  A hardback also looks better on the shelves.
There is a short story called, “Seven Types of Ambiguity,” that tells of a small basement bookshop that is crowded with books and lamps (the store owner uses lamps instead of overhead lights so that he can leave unnecessary lighting off during the day).  The story begins with one young, educated man perusing the classics, loving every bit of it.  He particularly loves a certain green-colored book.  The sad part, though, is that he doesn’t have the money it takes to buy the “good stuff.”
Well, in walks a small lady with her BIG husband.  He awkwardly looks around, fumbling through pages almost as if he has never read before.  He says that he wants some of the “good stuff” like Dickens because his mother read that to him when he was younger.
To make a short story even shorter, we find out that he names people like Dickens because he knows that they are good.  He also knows that smart people read Dickens.  Since he obviously has money, he wants to supplement his money with (the appearance of) education.  So, he buys it.  Sadly, after the young man leaves the store, he buys that green book that the young man had wanted for so long.
Hardback books were the easy way to make himself impressive whenever company came over.  He was more concerned about filling his shelves, getting suggestions from the young man who actually knew about literature, than having the books to read.  I think hardbacks fill a certain need in this regard.
I had a gentleman in my store a couple of days ago who was very happy to find a complete set of historical books for $5 each.  Ten books in all.  He bought every one, noting how good they would look when people came over.  Ironic to the short story I mentioned, they were green in color.
The title of this article comes from a lady who is actually in my store right now.
Like many people, she complained from the get-go about hardback books.  She only wanted paperback because she said that they were easier to read.  OK, fair enough.
A few minutes later, I help her find a book by John Jakes.  Oh, no.  We only have it in hardback.  I told her, as usual whenever I am out of stock on a certain book, that I could check our other location to see if they have it in stock.
While walking up to the front, she shares with me the real reason why she doesn’t like hardbacks.  It goes a little something like this:
“To be honest with you, I like to read myself to sleep.  And, you know, it’s never fun when I fall asleep while reading and my hardback hits me in the face.  Softbacks are much lighter.”
If anyone else has heard this excuse, you should already be telling this story.  If you haven’t, please share it with the book-lovin’ world.
My hardbacks hit me in the face…
Shane Gottwals
Gottwals Books

6 thoughts on “My hardbacks hit me in the face…”

  1. Shane, when my bookstore was in a larger town (Traverse City) for a couple of years, I was occasionally visited by a decorator from the furniture store down the street. My comfort was in the thought that the people wanting to fill their shelves with impressive bindings would probably have visitors, and maybe the set of beautiful children’s books would actually be discovered by delighted children who would thrill to the stories and pictures inside. We never know where our books will go once they are carried out the door or who will enjoy them from then on.

  2. I’m so torn sometimes!

    Paperbacks are lighter, easier to transport, and the corners don’t bump as do hardbacks when they slip off the bed after one falls asleep. When I hear the book hit the floor I know it is time to turn out the light.

    I love hardbacks because of their longevity and feel. Less likely the pages will start falling out or the cover falling off. PLUS, (as you state) they can really impress visitors and make ’em think yure smart.

    But paperbacks are cheaper.

    As a person of Scottish heritage this is a dilemma. My French portion wants to appear smart. All told I’m English, Irish, French, and Scotch. The English part knows I’m smart and the Irish doesn’t care…

    Reminds me of what a Jewish friend once told me about what constitutes a Jewish dilemma.

    Free ham.

  3. This five-year-old excerpt from an online Amazon review touches on the theme of the nocturnal falling book. But I’m sure that the story is much older than that:

    A Different Kind of Read, December 13, 2004
    By Mary Nears

    This book surprises me because, being so anxious to read it and so much time passing before I finally got a copy, I figured I’d read it in one sitting. Turns out, over a month has passed and I’m still reading a few pages at a time just before falling to sleep in bed, somtimes being startled awake when it falls into my face.

  4. Hardback books have a different feel when you purchase them. There is something special and extra prestigious about buying a hardback.

    I remember going to buy a paperback version of a book I once owned in hardback. The cover was different, it felt different, cheaper, the experience wasn’t so good.

    Plus, there is an added advantage to your bookshelves with hardbacks. When you buy one, you remove the sleeve and read it. Once you’ve knocked it, scratched it, left a few coffee cup rings on it, simply slip the sleeve back on and it looks brand new on your shelves. If you’re very house proud your eyes will be lighting up right now………………if not, maybe the “live in” look suits you better 🙂

    Hardbacks rule!

    • I’m rolling here Terry!

      “Live in look” indeed. My wife just wishes I could keep them on the shelves instead of piling them up by the bed or on the coffee table. I try to tell her that she can cancel the gym membership and simply re-shelve them for me.
      Attention all married men! DISCLAIMER!!! I am not responsible for what happens if you try using that line.

  5. Honestly I think the pros and cons when deciding on paperbacks or hardbacks cancel each other out. I like hardbacks because of their durability and quality. You can save these for a long time without much wear and tear. I dislike how the cover comes off because this can sometimes be a pain when trying to read. I can’t say how many covers I have lost because of removing them. Paperbacks don’t have this problem, but they aren’t as long lasting as hardbacks and I hate how pages stay bent back when you fold them open to read.

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