January 17, 2014
Publisher markets traditional print book by making it even more impractical, expensive
by Martin Rouse
Hoping to sell more copies of Chang-rae Lee’s new novel On Such a Full Sea, Riverhead Books teamed with MakerBot Industries to create a limited edition, 3-D printed slipcase for it, with an emphasis on the 3-D. The plastic words in the title literally jump off the page, turning the novel into more of an art piece than a practical inhabitant of the bookshelf.
In the video produced by MakerBot, Helen Yentus, Riverhead’s Art Director, explains:
We’ve talked a lot about, in the last couple of years, of, well what’s going to happen with books and cover designers if covers aren’t necessarily going to be the focus anymore? But, what I’ve found is we’re actually looking for new ways to present our books. It gives people the opportunity to have something to hold on to that is not available in digital form.
There’s definitely something to Yentus’ idea. A parallel case might be that of the vinyl LP, which, despite providing essentially the same musical content as an mp3 download (and none of the convenience), still remains a profitable, attractive product. 3-D printed slipcovers have yet to attain the nostalgia factor of a good ol’ record, but they do match its other selling points: they’re tangible, attractive, collectible, and cool.
The author himself seconds this notion in a post on the MakerBot blog: “What I like about [the slipcover] is that it revisits the book as an object,” said Lee, who prefers to read on paper “even though I write on a screen. The pleasure I get from reading is something tactile.”
Agreed. But how tactile does it have to be? The chief complaint about traditional print books has always been that they are too bulky and expensive in comparison to their electronic counterparts. With that in mind, is it wise to create a book with the build of an impossibly awkward cheese grater? Not to mention the price. On Penguin.com, this special edition sells for a whopping $150, right next to the regular hardcover which costs $27.95, and the eBook, which goes for a cool $14.99. This is what Tyra Banks is talking about when she says to “own your flaws.”
It’s hard to tell how successful this marketing venture will be, as the book was only released on January 7th (8,000+ youtube views certainly don’t hurt). But already there are its detractors. In her New York Times review of On Such a Full Sea, Michiko Kakutani describes the novel as “ungainly and strangely inert.” Ostensibly she’s talking about the plot of the book, but it may be that she was just reading the 3-D version.