Thursday, 7 October 2010

Why are books getting so big?

When I started collecting books as a small boy I had a small expandable bookshelf that, when opened to its widest, held about a dozen books. Each Christmas and birthday this shelf was opened a bit further to accommodate my most recent gifts and when I had filled it up I then went on to use a pair of bookends to hold the books that would no longer fit on my first bookshelf.
By the time I was in my twenties and had a little more pocket money the space occupied by my books had risen to about three or four shelves and by the time I got married I needed five shelves about eight feet long. Recently, although my collection has risen and fallen in numbers from time to time, I now find I have a big problem. Books have got bigger.
It has always been my habit that if I feel I may want to read a new book again I keep it on a shelf, but this is becoming more and more space consuming, until I had recently reached saturation point. Lately I have been getting rid of a lot of books in order to be able to fit in new ones. Surely this must reduce the book manufacturers' sales since I take my books to the charity shops where they go on sale in direct competition with the booksellers' new stock. If books remained as small as they were in the past, I would not release my books onto the second hand market so often and new book sales would be slightly better.
Due to this unnecessary insistence on making books larger, the same shelf area now will not hold anything like as many books as they once did. This is because not only have books become thicker but also the shelves have to be wider apart vertically to accommodate the ever taller books I buy, which reduces the number of shelves available.

The hardcover book on the left is 1000 pages long and still quite reasonably sized. The one on the right is just over 700 pages and huge. Why?
The two Anne McCaffery books even changed size during the publication of this series.

Why do publishers do this? Do they think we will be impressed by the size? Do they believe people wander around book shops saying, ‘Look at that book! Isn’t it big, I will have to buy it…’, or are they embarrassed by the incredible prices they charge for them and feel we will think we are getting better value for our money? Like a large number of the book buying public, I usually buy a book because of its contents, not because of its size.
I realise many books are getting longer and the average novel has gone from about 200 pages to around 600 over the last couple of decades and many authors tend to write long series of linked books as well. Tolstoy’s War and Peace is often quoted as a really long work, and it is about one thousand four hundred pages long and usually printed in two volumes, but many a modern author has well exceeded that. Peter F. Hamilton has written a four book series where each book averages over one thousand pages per novel and Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse series and Agatha Christie’s books each total much more than this and were all originally published in small books, so length is not a reason for size. So why are we book lovers being sold bigger and bigger books? I don’t want them and I now spend less on books, because, whilst I love the luxury of a nicely bound hardcover book, I will now wait for the paperback version – that is the small paperback version, which follows the giant brick that paperbacks early printings seem to be and I wonder who else has found problems with this insistence on bigger and bigger books.

The tiny Ace and Corgi paperback books on the left are dwarfed by the much more recent Gollancz paperback brick on the right. I have no more room for Stephen Baxter owing to his publishers assumption I will be pleased to own a bigger book.


  1. I think it's like houses. They build large houses on postage-size lots. So you pay more for your big house but get less actual land for it. So you get a larger size book to justify the rising cost of books.

  2. I agree wholeheartedly with all your points, snafu. I am such a lover of books that I feel sorry for my family having to clear them all out when I'm gone. I am slowly getting rid of some of the ones I know I will never read again, and not only do I take them to the charity shop, but I end up buying more, while I am there! I am so annoyed by the cost of books these days. I, too, will wait for the paperback to come out, usually - but what really annoys me is the fancy covers they make these days - you really can't tell a book by its cover so why bother with all the 3d, suede etc, that jacks up the price. A book has to be REALLY good for me to read it more than once, so what a waste to have this fancy thing sitting on my shelf; it's what's in the book that's most important to me. Maybe I SHOULD buy an e-reader, after all!