This point may seem meaningless. The economy and ease of the paperback makes it the choice of any sensible consumer, anyway. Why should women care whether they are published in hardback? Especially when we consider that the number of female readers outstrips the number of male readers, that women dominate publishing from the top to the bottom (women are publishers, agents, editors, writers, reviewers, bloggers, judges, booksellers), that women read more often and buy more books than men which means they direct publishing trends by their choices and that when given the choice of hardback or paperback, few choose the more expensive option.
So what if a few male authors are published in hardback, are reviewed, sell in miserable numbers and disappear again?
There is history here. The hardback is not just a format, it is an institution. The hardback is the aristocrat of books. For centuries it was the exclusive property of the rich. The hardback is solid and made to last. It is more expensive to produce and thus more expensive to buy. A hardback is to keep. It is for works of a serious nature – History, Art, Philosophy, Science, Literature… It is to cherish. It must be delivered into the hands of posterity. And most importantly, in this case, as this is one of the reasons women need to be published in hardback, too – a hardback can be reviewed in serious journals, reviews and newspapers.
The paperback has a different history. At the end of the nineteenth century the mass production of books – first the cheap hardback and then the paperback – sparked a revolution in self-education. One might ask – would the labour movement have achieved its astonishing successes so quickly without the aid of the paperback? I don’t think so. If the hardback was the aristocrat, the paperback was the revolutionary. But such glories would not last. The democratisation of information had begun. Just as the Internet was heralded as a way for the exceptional to exchange scholarly information and quickly became a device for the dissemination of nudey rudey pictures, images of buffoons ‘planking’ and inane commentary on Twitter about the latest episode of MasterChef or Glee, the paperback was soon befouled by those it had the greatest capacity to assist. Works of a serious nature were now made available to the whole populace and what did the populace choose to read? Smut, of course. Thence forward the paperback was seen by some to be mean, low, base, unworthy of review.
In short, according to tradition, all serious writing is published in hardback. Today, much writing by women is not being released in hardback editions. Therefore, we must conclude that most writing by women is not serious.
Do you think women writers have a point here? Should they insist on being published in hardback? Is the preference of their readers for the paperback a reflection on the quality of the work contained in its paper covers? Is there a male lead conspiracy to trivialise the views of women?
Tell me what you think – leave a comment below…
About the Contributor
While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. Now, as the Director of Books at booktopia.com.au, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection.