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December 23rd, 2013

The Next Big Thing in Book Design: The Deluxe Edition Book

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by David Rogers

We’ve come to that time of year again where it seems everyone online is scrambling to put out as many “best-of” lists as possible. When it comes to book lists, I’ve added to my reading list for the New Year by perusing the New York Times’ 10 Best Books of 2013 (which includes fiction and non-fiction), and it also was pretty interesting to see the top selling books on Amazon for 2013 (not-so-spoiler alert: Dan Brown holds the top spot).

There have been many other lists, too. But one I found particularly interesting was Buzzfeed’s list of 19 great cover designs. Though I don’t usually turn to the social site looking for a book recommendation, the list lead me to think about the future of book design.

Looking into the Future of Book Design: Deluxe Editions

While I do appreciate the design of most of the book covers on the list (even if I wouldn’t have made the exact same choices myself), it was the books that went an extra step that really caught my eye. Number two on the list is “This Is How You Lose Her,” the great book by Junot Diaz. While the original cover from the book’s initial 2012 release looked very familiar to anyone that has seen Diaz’s previous books “Drown” and “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” the deluxe edition version of the book goes to another place altogether.

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Image via JunotDiaz.com

Not only does the book come in a great looking limited edition slipcase, it also includes new and original illustrations by acclaimed comic creator Jaime Hernandez. A drawing accompanies each story in the collection, and you can get a feel for the illustration style over at John Hodgeman’s site.

Elsewhere on the list is “The Gorgeous Nothings,” a collection of writings from Emily Dickinson. In addition to having the best title on the list, the book goes further than just publishing Dickinson’s late period writing and actually recreates the original envelopes those poems were originally written on.

“The Art of Rube Goldberg: (A) Inventive (B) Cartoon (C) Genius” features an actual Rube Goldberg contraption in its cover. Though it’s a little kitschy (and reminds me a bit of Kramer’s Coffee Table Book about Coffee Tables), the design is not only inventive but also attracts attention to the art of a man much better known for other things.

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Image via Abrams Books

The Printed Book Industry is Certainly Not Dead, but it Has Changed (and Will Continue to Do So)

The afore-linked Buzzfeed article claims that “pundits announced the death of print” the day the Kindle was released, but those morbid cries have been echoing much longer than that. We have to respectfully (and completely) disagree with any assertions that print is dead. We’ve read the numbers cited in that article and, more importantly, we’ve seen the number of authors that come to us to print their books increase in the past few years rather than decline as the self-publishing industry grows. We recently noted that the numbers of self-published books are up 59 percent, and we have no fears of printed books going away, but we know they now exist in a changed and changing industry.

I find it analogous to a recent Washington Post article exploring the resurgence in popularity of independent bookstores. The number of indie bookstores has grown 6.4 percent so far this year after seeing all-time lows back in 2008. The Post sums up the trends well:

Twenty-five years ago, independents were supposed to vanish when Waldenbooks showed up in malls. They were supposed to vanish when Borders and Barnes & Noble came along with endless selection and comfy chairs. They were supposed to vanish when Costco started selling the latest Doris Kearns Goodwin . They were supposed to vanish when Amazon perfected low prices and fast shipments — not just for books but even for rowboats, meaning nobody would ever have to leave the house again to shop.

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Humpus Bumpus: an Atlanta Independent Bookstore (image via HumpusBumpus.com)

Obviously a slowly recovering economy may be adding to the growth of independent book stores, but it is clear that shoppers are interested in going into a physical store and buying a physical product.

Which brings us back around to the point that the industry is not going away, it is just changing. Though deluxe books are not new, they are one way we see publishers and book printers expanding the scope of what it means to own a book.

The Printed Book’s New Place in Our Lives

This also doesn’t mean that every printed new book will have a Rube Goldberg contraption in its cover or a fancy slipcover with exclusive illustrations. One of the reasons is that it is cost prohibitive for all books to be printed this way: the deluxe edition of the Diaz book has an MSRP nearly twice that of the paperback version, which itself is a couple bucks more than the Kindle version. No, most books will remain in the same hardback and softcover books we already know and love. And the reason won’t be because of nostalgia but, in part, because of the inherent beauty of a book –  a beauty that may be enhanced as printed copies compete with or even complement ebooks.

In the Slate.com series “The Evolution of Design in Our Lives,” Michael Agresta writes takes an interesting look at “What Will Become of the Paper Book?” One point he makes is that a print version of a book, in some cases, simply makes more sense to the context of the book.

For example, at the end of a chapter in James Joyce’s “Ulysses,” the author placed a period on its own line and specifically requested the book printer enlarge the period for added emphasis. The Slate article points out that Joyce’s request is rendered moot on a Kindle when the reader has control over the font size..

But while there are other pertinent questions raised in the article (“Is it any more appropriate to consume Quixote on an e-reader than it is to, say, watch a colorized, 3-D Citizen Kane?”), the article’s main point is that printed books will metaphorically live alongside ebooks. Buyers, however, will be more selective about which books they choose to buy in print, which in turn will affect how books are designed.

“The next generation of paper books will likely rival the art hanging beside them on the walls for beauty, expense, and ‘aura’,” Agresta writes.

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A book printed by Advanced Print & Finishing that adds meaning through a custom cut-out cover.

No one – including us – knows exactly where book printing will go in the future, though we are confident that the industry will continue to flourish and are excited to help lead the way into that future. As a full service commercial printer, we have the ability to print just about anything you can dream up for your book, but are more than happy to print a traditional book for you, just as we’ve done for so many others.