by Jonathan H. Harwell, Georgia Southern University
and Tom Gilson, Against the Grain
For your holiday reading, here’s a story we missed earlier in December. According to Julie Bosman of the New York Times, there’s a growing design aesthetic for print books, in order to compete with e-book sales. Yes, Virginia, books are becoming beautiful again. High production values like “deckle edges, colored endpapers, high-quality paper and exquisite jackets” are being re-introduced in new titles ranging from Stephen King’s “11/22/63,” with its “intricate book jacket and, … photographs” to the paperback edition of Jay-Z’s memoir “Decoded” with its “shiny gold Rorschach on the cover.” (And in case you’re wondering about those upside-down page numbers in your library’s new copy of Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84, it’s not a printing error. It’s by design.)
This seems to fulfill a prediction a number of people have been making – print books becoming fewer but occupying a “high end” niche and thus maintaining a viable place in the market. In an upcoming interview in Against the Grain, Alison Mudditt, Director of the University of California Press notes, “Like many others, I envisage a future in which the electronic version becomes the standard, and print becomes a less frequently produced luxury item. There will always be those of us who want and are prepared to pay a premium for a beautifully crafted print book – such as Rebecca Solnit’s Infinite City, in my view one of the most original and beautiful books UC Press has published …”
However, one wonders if print books may exceed Alison’s expectations and be more than a “luxury item.” As Ms. Bosman notes in her article “there are indications that an exquisitely designed hardcover book can keep print sales high and cut into e-book sales. For instance, “1Q84” has sold 95,000 copies in hardcover and 28,000 in e-book. — an inversion of the typical sales pattern of new fiction at Knopf.”
Tom is originally from Brooklyn N.Y but has spent his entire professional career in South Carolina, most recently as Head of Reference Services at the College of Charleston. As part of the Against the Grain and Charleston Conference team, he serves as the associate editor of the print ATG as well as the co-editor of the webpage. Tom’s conference duties include coordinating the Penthouse Suite interviews as well as the conference poster sessions.
He received his MLS from the University of Buffalo, SUNY and a second master’s in public administration from the College of Charleston and the Univ. of South Carolina. His wife Carol and he live in downtown Charleston and she is an artist and a tour guide offering historic walking tours of the city.