Tuesday, June 28, 2011


Back in late March I read this Guardian article and got intrigued about flipbacks, a new book format being released this week in the UK by Hodder & Stoughton (marketed, imaginatively, as "the next little thing").

The small, landscape-format books are quite popular in the Netherlands, where they were launched in 2009 (and are known as dwarsligger). They've also been released in Spain (as librinos) and France (where they're known as Point Deux), through partnerships with the developer, Bible printer/publisher Jongbloed. More than a million copies have sold so far in the Netherlands, and judging from the pre-release buzz in the UK, Hodder & Stoughton may have a winner on their hands (follow @flipbackbooks for updates).

I did a Q&A with Hodder & Stoughton's flipback publisher Kate Parkin for the June LibraryThing newsletter, and was delighted to receive a couple flipbacks to try out (I've also ordered a few more, plus a couple extras to put in the Rare Book School collections). The first thing I noticed was that they really are tiny: only a slight bit bigger than my iPhone, and almost an ounce lighter (though obviously the weight will vary by title). Here's another shot showing a flipback in comparison with standard hardback and paperback books.

The construction of the flipbacks (sewn binding, with the front board and spine unattached to the backstrip) permits them to open fully (handy, I've found, for reading while eating), and the light weight makes it very easy to hold the book with with one hand. They're printed on very thin Indoprint "Bible paper" (which certainly helps keep the weight down), and typeset in what seems to be a Karmina Sans font. That took a bit of getting used to, but after about twenty pages or so I barely noticed. Flipping the pages upward instead of sideways also was a little disorienting at first, but again I didn't even notice after a few minutes.

Much of the media attention on flipbacks has focused on them as potential rivals to e-books. I don't know about that (and the publisher says that was never the intention), but I do know that I for one find them much more easy and comfortable to read than any e-book I've tried, and their portability is certainly a nifty thing. You could fit quite a few of these into a carry-on bag! Right now the price point (£9.99 apiece) and selection would argue against them being particularly powerful competitors to Kindle books, but of course all that could change, and for those of us who still like the feel of something in our hands other than a plastic shell, it's nice to have another option.

Hodder & Stoughton is releasing twelve flipback titles on 30 June, including works by Stephen King, Jasper Fforde, David Mitchell, and Jodi Picoult. Another fifteen titles will be out by November, including six Jane Austen novels. No word yet on when they'll be available in the US, but Jongbloed is reportedly in talks with American publishers. I'm very curious to see how they do in the U.K., and will certainly be watching their progress across the pond.

Have you seen/read any flipbacks yet? What are your thoughts?