March 22, 2011

The cutting edge of analog books


On Sunday in the Guardian, an article by Patrick Kingsley somewhat provocatively titled “Could this new book kill the Kindle?” posited that the next Kindle-killer may operate on something a little more old fashioned than e-ink.

Kingsley writes about a new sort of book (yes, a book) that is all the rage in Holland called the “flipback.” Okay, what the hell is a flipback? Kingsley describes the flipback he is reading–The Other Hand by Chris Cleave–thusly:

Nearly 370 pages long in its original format, the flipback version has more than 550 – but still fits easily in my pocket. The book’s not called The Other Hand for nothing. It’s so small that I can perch it in one fist, and keep my other hand free for shopping. How? The paper is wafer-thin.

So, it’s just a new format (or, as an e-book engineer might call it, “platform”)? That’s it?

Well, yes, apparently. UK publisher Hodder & Stoughton plans to publish 12 titles in this format. Publishers in Spain and France are already on board with versions of their titles as flipbacks (no word about plans from US publishers).

Analog books have not been getting a lot of press lately for their design innovations and, frankly, this format seems more like a novelty than anything–why is this news? What’s the incentive for publishers?

As Kingsley notes, the format was introduced just 2 years ago in Holland and has already sold more than a million books. It seems the format has a few features that lends itself well to modern life:

Unlike an ordinary paperback, the book lies open without intervention on my part, due to its special spine.

It’s handy on a rush-hour tube, too. Page-turning with paperbacks will see you elbowing your neighbour in the pancreas in no time. But the minuteness of this little beauty, with its pages that flip rather than turn, help me keep my elbows to myself and pancreases everywhere safe.

All well and good, but the lack of the letter “e” up front suggests that this format, despite it’s pleasing hand fit, strong sales for a novelty, and good press, might be doomed.

Or am I missing something? Does the idea of this new format appeal to you? It seems ideally suited to commuters reading on trains and buses–commuters, what do you think? Would being able to buy books as flipbacks push back the eventual day in the future in which you break down and buy an iPad, Nook, or Kindle? I look forward to your comments…