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In comics, a trade paperback (shortened: TPB or trade) is a collection of stories originally published in comic books, reprinted in book format, usually presenting either a complete miniseries, a story arc from a single title, or a series of stories with an arc or common theme.
A trade paperback may reproduce the stories either at the same size in which they were originally presented (in comic book format), in a smaller "digest-sized" format, or a larger-than-original hardcover. This article applies to both paperback and hardcover collections. In the comics industry, the term "trade paperback market" may refer to the market for any collection, regardless of its actual cover.
A trade paperback differs from a graphic novel in that a graphic novel is usually original material. It is also different from the publishing term trade paperback, which is a book with a flexible cardstock cover that is larger than the standard mass market paperback format.
Additions and omissions
A trade paperback will sometimes feature additional artwork, such as alternative cover art, pinup galleries by guest artists, or additional story material that had not been released in the standard issues. A common practice is to include an art gallery featuring the artwork of the original comic book covers from which the series was compiled. Many feature introductions written by prominent figures, some from outside the world of comics—for instance, The Sandman: Worlds' End features an introduction by Stephen King, the Ultimates 2 book has an introduction by Jonathan Ross and most Hellboy trade paperbacks have included introductions by prominent authors.
Trade paperbacks generally do not feature advertisements, fan mail, or special foil or embossed covers. "Back-up" stories not related to the main arc may also be omitted, and in older trade paperbacks it was common practice to omit pages from the main story related to other subplots.
As most individual comics contain advertising pages, and collections usually do not, this may change the relationship of the art pages to each other. This can be significant when the story contains more than one two-page spread. In order to be printed properly, two-page spreads need to be separated by an even number of pages, and the removal of ads may mean they are now separated by an odd number of pages. This has been handled by adding a new page to the story (as seen in the first WildC.A.T.s paperback), by splitting one of the existing pages across two pages (as seen in the Sovereign Seven paperback), or by including a blank page.
Readers and collectors
For many years, trade paperbacks were mainly used to reprint older comic-book stories that were no longer available to the average reader. Original copies of those stories were scarce, and often very expensive when found due to their rarity. However, in the first years of the 21st century, comic book publishers began releasing trade paperbacks of collected story arcs directly after those stories' original periodical publication, because a new reader could purchase the trade paperbacks and access the entire series' stories to date.
Because trade paperbacks may be less expensive and more convenient than buying the individual periodicals, readers may forgo purchasing individual issues in favor of the trade. This practice can sometimes revive a series whose sales are flagging, in the same way that a film that performed poorly in theaters can gain new profitability in home video formats, but this may be at the expense of the original publication's viability. Despite the growing popularity of the trade paperback, the serialized, individual issues are still considered the primary mode of sale by comics publishers, and a poorly selling series may face cancellation irrespective of trade-paperback sales.
A significant benefit of the trade paperback version is that it is often available in bookstores, from smaller booksellers to the larger suppliers, and other retailers that do not normally carry comic books. Trade paperbacks, as readily available reprints, lack the historical significance of the original publication and usually have little collectors' value. Trade paperbacks and graphic novels are the preferred format for circulating library collections, since these collections are created to be read, and not to be retained as collector's items or as investments. Attempts to catalogue and circulate single-issue comics can pose difficult problems and the durability of the trade paperback format is an important consideration for longevity and collection development in public and school libraries.
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