You probably already know that books don't last forever, but what life span can you expect from your favorite books?
If you are curious about the average life span of a book, the factors that influence the life span of a book, and what you can do to prolong it you're at the right place!
Before we dive into details, the first thing you should know is that a book’s lifespan depends on numerous things, especially how you take care of it.
Paperbacks can last up to 20 years, whereas hardcovers have a shelf life of anywhere from 40 to 60 years. This has to do with how each type of book is made: paperback books are made of paper, while hardcovers are made of cardboard.
As time passes, the glue that keeps the pages together and holds the paperback’s spine weakens and quickly falls apart. This causes pages to loosen and fall out. That’s right, a book lover’s worst nightmare.
On the other hand, hardcovers are made of cardboard and thus can handle more wear and tear over time. Hardcover books tend to last longer because their covers don't fall off or unravel as paperback pages do. However, if you take care of both types of books, both can last anywhere from 10 to 60 years.
The Difference Between Paperback and Hardcover
Hardcover and paperback are two types of books that involve different bookbinding techniques in the manufacturing process.
‘Hardcover’, ´hardback’, and ‘hardbound’ are terms used to describe the same bookbinding method. An alternative term for ‘paperback’ is ‘softback’ or ‘softcover’, which are frequently used variations nowadays.
Commercial paperbacks and mass-market paperbacks are two types of paperbacks that may be found at book stores.
Unlike hardcover books, paperback books have a soft card or a heavy paper cover that protects the pages from getting soiled. It is less bulky than other covers but is more prone to creases and folds with usage.
The average shelf life of a paperback book is about 10 to 20 years, while the average shelf life of a hardcover book is about 40 to 60 years.
This lies in the fact that paperbacks are more prone to wear and tear than hardcovers. The main thing that affects the lifespan of a book is its physical condition. If you take good care of your books, they will last a very long time.
Do Books Last Forever?
Unfortunately, the answer to this question is usually NO.
While some books can remain intact for decades or even centuries, many factors determine how long a book lasts. The two main factors that influence a book’s shelf life are its environmental and physical conditions.
The environment plays a huge role in the longevity of books. Dirt, dust, sunlight, moisture, and extreme temperatures all affect books in different ways. The physical condition of books is also critical. If the cover falls off, the pages are brittle or yellowed, or if the ink has faded on some of the pages, you’ll have a hard time reading the book’s content.
How Long Do Paperback Books Last?
As stated earlier, the average shelf life of a paperback book is approximately 10 years.
A paperback book’s lifespan highly depends on the type of paper used.
There are so many different types of paper out there, but to make things easier for you, I’ve divided them into two primary categories:
- Papers with wood fibers
- Papers without wood fibers
Paper made from wood is less expensive because not all of the raw material is processed, leaving only the fundamental cellulose to be extracted (sorry for the fancy words, I had no way around it).
An inexpensive paperback might probably survive 10 years, but a higher-quality book may last hundreds of years and could still probably be restored by a competent bookbinder.
Why Do Many People Prefer Buying Paperback Books?
Even though hardcover books are long-lasting and appear beautiful in a bookcase, many individuals prefer paperbacks, and for various reasons:
- Paperback books are nearly always cheaper than their hardcover counterparts.
- Paperback books are usually smaller and more portable, making them ideal for reading on the go.
- Many enjoy the feel of paperback books (can’t judge a person’s feelings!)
Here are a few ways to make your paperback book last longer:
Keep Away From Water
Keep the paperback books away from water as much as possible to avoid unnecessary damage. A few drops of water will not destroy your book, but letting it swim in a pool or bathtub will cause irreversible damage.
When you're not using your books, ensure they're kept in a dry area to prevent mold from growing. They may mildew if not properly cared for.
It is necessary to store your books carefully. If you have the available shelf space, the books should be arranged so that they are flat with one another. It's important not to overcrowd a shelf with items that may be difficult to remove later. In order to keep books organized on a side table or bedside, arrange them in piles with the biggest (and heaviest) volumes at the bottom of the stack. Take a moment to clean the books every now and then to ensure that they remain clean.
Laminating the front and back covers of the books using clear contact paper is an excellent option. The coverings will be more tear- and spill-resistant as a result. Simply cut out a sheet of contact paper that is slightly bigger than the book's pages and front. Then, strip away the lining, and stick it to the book's cover and spine as desired. Instead of a simple contact paper, a beautiful fabric or paper covering is a nice choice to consider.
Try to avoid the urge to fold the page’s corner to mark the page you left off on. Instead, make use of a bookmark. (Consider checking out the options at your local bookshop). If you already have accessibility to a pouch laminator, you may create your own bookmarks as well.
Keep Out of Reach of Children & Pets
Take precautions to keep your books away from children and pets. Dogs love to chew on books!
If you have children, limit their access to your paperbacks until they are old enough.
How Long Do Hardcover Books Last?
Depending on the way you take care of your hardcover books, they can last anywhere from 40 to 60 years. Sometimes even longer than that!
The majority of people expect hardcover books to survive forever. However, because of cost-cutting measures taken by some publishers, the material in many hardcovers isn’t as high of a quality as you wished it be.
Hardcover books are made from high-quality paper. That’s why they last much longer than paperback books. This is not to say that hardcover books do not have their own set of problems and need special care too.
Just like all books, hardcover books get damaged if exposed to extreme temperatures or sunlight. Plus, they also retain moisture and, if not properly maintained, can fall apart quite easily.
How Do I Make My Hardcover Books Last Longer?
“Bring me some sunlight baby!” Yeah, that’s me when I’m on vacation in the Caribbean islands.
That’s not me, however, when I’m organizing my books. Keep your books as far away from sunlight as possible.
Take Care of the Temperature
Avoid storing your books in places like closets, garages, or underground. These are probably the worst places to preserve anything of value, including books, since they’re not climate-controlled.
If you absolutely must utilize these spaces, do all you can to keep the temperature and humidity as stable as possible. Using a dehumidifier in highly humid locations or using a humidifier in dry areas would be a smart way to begin.
Consider installing an air purifier in the area where your books are placed. Apart from extending the shelf life of your books, air purifiers also help improve indoor air quality.
Handle Books With Care
Before touching your books, make sure to clean your hands thoroughly. Don’t let any oils or dirt get on your books.
Especially relevant to today’s Covid-19 era: avoid using a disinfectant on your hands seconds before touching your books. This will lead to their discoloration!
Many factors affect the longevity of books, but it all starts with you.
Don’t be surprised if your books don’t last long if you neglect to care for them or store them in a way that leads to their deterioration. Follow the tips I’ve included in this article, such as keeping your valuable volumes away from children and pets, and your cherished books will last as long as possible.