What Are Trade Books?

Library books resting on shelf in library
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Trade books are published for general readership, and usually are headed for bookstores and libraries. They are not rare books or textbooks for small, specialized or niche readerships, but neither are they targeted toward impulse buyers at drugstores, airports or discount stores. A trade book can be paperback or hardback. It can occupy a wide range of genres within fiction and nonfiction, from classical literature to science journalism.

1 Designated Market

The designated market for trade books is the general public. Marketing teams and publicists focus on selling these books to libraries and bookstores -- that is, directly to sellers in the book trade. They send review copies to journalists who cover and review new books in advance of the trade book's publication date. This ensures that book reviews can be ready by the date of publication.

2 Trade or Mass-Market

The distinction between trade and mass-market books lies in the quality of the book's paper and binding, as well as its design and pricing. Though they could be both hardback and paperback editions, trade books are printed with better binding and higher quality paper; they also cost more the mass-market books. Mass market paperbacks have cheaper binding. Cover art also is a consideration: If there is a movie version of a novel, for example, the trade book might feature an artistic design -- rather than the movie stars -- on its cover.

3 Genre Fiction

Some genre fiction never receives a trade printing. Instead, it goes straight to the mass-market racks at drugstores and airports. Romance novels with sexualized covers and science fiction novels with shiny raised lettering are designed for impulse buys, not careful perusal of a bookstore or library shelf. Some genre fiction, however, does get the trade book treatment. The Harry Potter franchise is one example. For each Harry Potter title, the reader could find a subdued, black and white trade market version designed for adult fiction bookshelves, a colorful artistic trade book design for children's shelves and a cheaper mass-market edition of both the adults' and children's versions. The variety of marketing techniques meant that just about anyone could find a copy of Harry Potter meant just for her reader demographic.

4 Trade or Academic

When it comes to classic works found in both bookstores and universities, both trade versions and academic versions of a book may be available. Bookstore chains as well as major publishing houses produce trade versions of classic books. Already in the public domain, these books are inexpensive. Their design and formatting are simple so that the general reader can follow the book. The point is general understanding, not a specialized mastery of the work. Unlike the academic versions, trade versions of classic novels or philosophy works do not have lengthy, extended footnotes, endnotes or annotations added by later experts.

Christina Lee began writing in 2004. Her co-authored essay is included in the edited volume, "Discipline and Punishment in Global Affairs." Lee holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and politics from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a Master of Arts in global affairs from American University and a Master of Arts in philosophy from Penn State University.