A trade paperback (TPB or simply trade) specifically refers to a collection of stories originally published in comic books reprinted in book format, usually capturing one story arc from a single title or a series of stories with a connected story arc or common theme from one or more titles. Traditionally, a trade paperback will reproduce the stories at the same size as they were originally presented in comic book format; recently, however, certain trades have been published in a smaller, "digest"-sized format, similar in size to a paperback novel. This smaller size is intended to appeal to newer generations of American readers whose first exposure to a comic book format was the English-translated reprints of digest-sized Japanese comics, also known as manga. The term graphic novel is sometimes used interchangeably, but many people maintain that the terms are distinct.
Additions and omissions
A trade paperback will usually feature some additional artwork, such as alternate cover art or pinup galleries by guest artists, not released in the standard issues. Additional story material that was not available in the series itself may also be included, primarily "preview" or "extra" stories presented exclusively on the Internet or in comics-industry publications such as Wizard. Many feature introductions written by prominent figures, some from outside the world of comics — for instance, The Sandman: Worlds' End features an introduction by author Stephen King.
While there have been exceptions, as a general rule of thumb, trade paperback will not feature fan mail, special foil or embossed covers. Where the original serialised format included back-up stories not related to the main arc, these may also be omitted, and, in what is now a largely discontinued practice, it was common in older trade paperbacks to use only small excerpts from certain stories, or to omit pages from the main story related to other subplots.
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, when original copies of those stories were scarce and hard to find, 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 within a few months of those stories' publication in comic-book form (sometimes within the same month that the final issue reprinted was originally released). This was found to be an excellent way to draw new readers to a series — where before, one would have to hunt for individual back issues to "catch up" on a series, now a reader coming into an already established title could purchase the previous issues in trade paperback form and have access to the entire series' worth of stories to date.
As the trade paperback versions are usually cheaper than buying the individual comics and presented without any advertisements at all, many comic book fans choose to hold off on purchasing the individual issues and only follow the stories when they come out in trade. This combination of affordability and accessibility is a great benefit for readers. This can sometimes help a series whose sales are flagging, much like how a film that performed poorly in movie theaters can gain new popularity in home video formats; in a few instances, significant trade paperback sales have even revived a series that had been cancelled or slated for cancellation. However, only buying a series in trade format can also hurt a title; despite the growing popularity of the trade paperback, the serialized, individual issues are still considered the primary mode of sale by comics publishers, and if a series is not meeting sales criteria for individual issues, it may face cancellation no matter how well the collected editions are selling.
A significant benefit of the trade paperback version is that it is often available in bookstores, from smaller booksellers to the larger suppliers.
Unlike the individual issues, the trade paperback has almost no collector's value, and will probably not appreciate in value, as the releases of the trade paperbacks are not restricted, and more could be printed at any time. On the other hand, some trade paper backs of Star Wars Dark Horse comics go for hundreds of dollars on eBay, showing many trade paperbacks do indeed have a value to the right fan.
There are some criticisms of trade paperbacks by some writers and artists in recent years. They argue that because of the popularity of trades that they are forced to produce five or six issue arcs simply because this is the ideal size of a trade. In their perspective this can be quite limiting in in the length of a story and pacing as the size is now set. This however is also countered by placing several short arcs in one volume and in the case of longer arcs — the Metal Gear Solid comic adaptation was released in two separate trades.