Friday 8 July 2011

A pocket full of spy....

Is it possible to have such a thing as negative innovation? Retro-creativity? Backward-looking foresight?

In publishing, perhaps so. The future - if you read the pages of the major newspapers and online sources - is electronic. It's 'e'. e-Books. e-Readers. e-Novels.

The days of the book, you might think, are numbered. The paperback is headed in a few years for the great bookshelf in the sky. The irrational turn-on one finds in opening a brand new hardback book is a fleeting pleasure to be enjoyed while you can and soon lost to the biblophile. In the brave new world of literature, there's no sifting through the first few pages, the swish of the paper and the smell of the just-off-the-presses text hinting at the reading pleasure ahead. Just text. Efficient, clean, text, just there. Ready.

At the touch of a button. Bing - there you are. New novel. Exactly like all the other new e-novels. A great story ... but, somehow, not the same. The traditional book - spine, cover, pages, turned over corner, is on the canvass. Bloodied.

Ah, now, look....see, the book's put in a parry. It's fighting back, getting in a punch or two, thanks to a great little innovation which, while it may not hold the electronic hordes at bay, might take a few of the e-book sluggers down in a brave - but perhaps foolish - rearguard action against the ropes.

What do I mean? Flip back books. I stumbled across them in my local bookshop, the name front of mind thanks to a great radio marketing campaign. And what a pleasure! All the sensation of a real book, but with half the fat, metaphorically speaking.

A simple innovation of printing a novel with the pages turned bottom to top, rather than the traditional right to left, and the pages made of super-thin paper, allows the book to be truly pocked sized - and smaller than an e-reader, I might add - but retaining all the tactile sensations of a traditional tome.

I picked up le Carré's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy in this format, not having read it for many years. The flip back book makes the story of George Smiley tracking down the activities of 'Gerald' and 'Lapin' in creating merry havoc in the Circus a real reading pleasure. It's easy to hold one-handed - great format for packed commuter trains, where one free arm's the best you can hope for - and the pages can be turned with the merest push from your thumb, as thin and delicate as a layer of a mille-feuille pastry.

In the book market, anything that provides competition and user choice is welcome, and this new format - sure, a little pricey - adds something new and I take my hat off to the people at Sceptre for taking a leap of faith.

I await with interest news of other thriller writers coming out in this format!

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