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The Book as Object of Beauty

As ebooks have overtaken hard backs and paperbacks in sales, publishers are going the old-fashioned route and
stressing design of the physical object
. They are looking to create objects that are collectable, to compete, even in a small way, with the growth of books that are merely stored on tablets or smart phones or e-readers.

This isn’t likely to have much effect against the rise of e-books, but for publishers, it’s become a niche worth exploring: books as more than their content. This is somewhat akin to what a few record labels, and some rock groups, have done, in releasing their latest recordings in several formats – downloadable tracks, physical CDs and “collector” vinyl.

These beautifully designed books are a means of catching the eye of consumers in that split second when they decide whether to buy or not (it’s like the click of a mouse online, converting an online browser into a consumer). Beautifully designed books such as Huraki Murakami’s 1Q84, which feature alluring covers, or Stephen King’s 11/23/63, which has within it photographs (unusual for a novel by an American writer), are for people who might buy an e-book but also appreciate the actual book. (Of course this is for consumers who use bookstores as more than browsing areas – many shoppers check out the books in a brick-and-mortar store and then go home and buy the same item online.

This is nothing new – beautiful book design has been around for a while, at least since the Victorian artist William Morris began printing books that were as much objects of admiration for themselves as for their content. And publishers are aware that e-books, with their lower margins and lower price points, necessitate a rethinking of their business models.

Books will long be collected, I feel – even as they are not read in the same way. For myself, I tend to read more e-books these days (or listen to audio books). Space is at a premium in my home, and it is the rare physical book that finds a space on my shelves. But I, like many lifelong readers and writers, take comfort in holding, regarding and, yes, even reading, physical books.

But what’s a new writer, or an entrepreneur who’s facing the new publishing landscape, to do? Continue as before: build the platform to get people to respond to your message. These new beautifully designed books are, for now, limited to writers who already have established themselves, such as Murakami and King.

As your platform builds, and as your name recognition grows, you may be in a position to offer your book in a variety of formats, too – to meet the demands of your base. In the meantime, concentrate on refining your message, conversing with your readers, and guaranteeing that you will have an audience for your book, in whatever format it’s published.

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2 Responses to “The Book as Object of Beauty”

  1. Kirsten Nelson December 10, 2011 at 1:52 pm #

    I have a collection of “beautiful” books. I adore them. However, I’ve finally transitioned over to Kindle. And I’m in love with the convenience and versatility of e-readers!

     No doubt I will still keep my beautiful books to adorn my shelves, but more than likely they will be spending more shelf time while I bask in the digital glow of ebooks. 
    It will be interesting to see what other ideas traditional publishers come up with to bail out their sinking ships.

  2. Nine Andres December 12, 2011 at 9:36 pm #

    I’ve heard of pig skin and gold lined /leafed special edition books only in the self-publishing world. I’m now thinking it may not be too slim of an idea for trad. pub. to follow suit and go after aesthetics aside from book content. Anyway, it’s not something new but just something rare. It’s still nice to see luxurious books and dream to have it on my shelf.

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