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Making books attractive

December 4, 2011

Today the New York Times features a story entitled “Selling Books by Their Gilded Covers.”

It discusses several books that we have discussed in recent posts – namely Murakami’s 1Q84 and Stephen Mitchell’s version of the Iliad, and a book I plan to discuss in a future post, Stephen King’s 11/22/63

The article begins:

Even as more readers switch to the convenience of e-books, publishers are giving old-fashioned print books a makeover. Many new releases have design elements usually reserved for special occasions — deckle edges, colored endpapers, high-quality paper and exquisite jackets that push the creative boundaries of bookmaking. If e-books are about ease and expedience, the publishers reason, then print books need to be about physical beauty and the pleasures of owning, not just reading. “When people do beautiful books, they’re noticed more,” said Robert S. Miller, the publisher of Workman Publishing. “It’s like sending a thank-you note written on nice paper when we’re in an era of e-mail correspondence.”

Here is what the article said about 1Q84:

The eagerly anticipated 925-page novel by Haruki Murakami, 1Q84, arrived in bookstores in October wrapped in a translucent jacket with the arresting gaze of a young woman peering through…. 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.

Here is what the article said about 11/22/63:

A new novel by Stephen King about the Kennedy assassination, 11/22/63, has an intricate book jacket and, unusual for fiction, photographs inside…. Scribner, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, published 11/22/63. “We hoped that a handsome object would slow the migration to e-book for King and, in fact, we are now in our fourth printing,” said Nan Graham, the senior vice president and editor in chief at Scribner.

Here is what the article said about Stephen Mitchell’s Iliad:

Some editions can command higher prices, like the $35 list price of a new translation of The Iliad by Stephen Mitchell that has a red silk placeholder, deckle edges, embossing and an extra-heavy paper stock…. Martha K. Levin, the executive vice president and publisher of Free Press, the imprint of Simon & Schuster that published The Iliad, said the presentation sent “the message that even if you’re buying 90 percent of your books on your e-reader, this is the one that you want to have on your bookshelf.”

The article included this photograph including Stephen Mitchell’s Iliad along with a book by Jay-Z and others.:


The article ends by quoting Julian Barnes:

In October, the British novelist Julian Barnes underscored that point when he accepted the Man Booker Prize for The Sense of an Ending by urging publishers to pay attention to aesthetics. “Those of you who have seen my book, whatever you think of its contents, will probably agree that it is a beautiful object,” Mr. Barnes told the black-tie crowd in London. “And if the physical book, as we’ve come to call it, is to resist the challenge of the e-book, it has to look like something worth buying and worth keeping.”

I have post some preliminary thoughts on book design here.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 6, 2011 4:31 pm

    To my mind there’s never been a better time to make a beautiful book. The tools of design and production are cheap and ubiquitous, the costs of quality materials are low. Unfortunately I was reminded recently that in the 1870’s and 80’s you could buy a wonderful horse drawn carriage, with technical refinements like rubber tires and gas or electric lighting, cheaper than ever before – then Herr Daimler came along and spoiled the whole enterprise.

  2. December 7, 2011 5:21 pm

    Robert — very well put.

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