ATG Hot Topic of the Week: A Growing Design Aesthetic for Print Books.

by | Jan 1, 2012 | 0 comments

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.”




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