Hardcover Books Reach New Heights

POSTED ON Dec 6, 2011

Joel Friedlander

Written by Joel Friedlander

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Sunday’s New York Times carried an article by Julie Bosman (“Selling Old-Style Books by Their Gilded Covers“) that struck a familiar chord. In it Bosman describes how traditional publishers have started to lavish attention on the physical presentation of some top-level hardcover books.

“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.”

This reminded me of the conclusion a lot of us came to back in 2009 that the e-book’s biggest influence, if it was widely adopted, would be to take down the mass market paperback while at the same time fracturing the book market.

While larger trade paperbacks would continue to be popular, it seemed likely that hardcovers would take on a completely different role. It could be as a souvenir of an event, a lifestyle choice, since you could display it proudly in your home or office, or perhaps as an objet d’art in itself, meant to be both read and appreciated.

Commercial hardcover books that were conceived as both texts to read and objects to appreciate were popular during the golden age of letterpress bookmaking in the early part of the twentieth century, and now it may be making a comeback. This is a similar strategy that Seth Godin employed during the run of his Domino Publishing. Some of his books were made available as unique and artful hardcovers or as e-books, with nothing in between.

Of course, traditional publishers have other reasons for pursuing this strategy, and Bosman points those out too:

“For publishers, the strategy has a clear payoff: to increase the value of print books and build a healthy, diverse marketplace that includes brick-and-mortar bookstores and is not dominated by Amazon and e-books.”

To read the complete article (along with a photo of Jay-Z signing a copy of “Decoded,” his intricately jacketed memoir) here’s the link: “Selling Books by Their Gilded Covers.”

As publishers, it’s possible to make quite a bit more profit per book with all kinds of special editions, but you have to have a market to sell them to. What do you think? Would you produce a high-end hardcover as a self-publisher?

Photo by Andy Mangold

Joel Friedlander

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Joel Friedlander

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