A quiet evolution has been occurring in the world of book publishing during this last decade. A hybrid species is emerging—one that has taken until just last year to jump the Atlantic and become available to American literary consumers. There may not seem to be much room to improve upon our current forms of bookish technology, as the basic formats are pretty simple: hardcover, paperback, ebook. But even if you are firmly in either the print or electronic camp, you may be pleasantly surprised by a type of happy medium that is ideally giving readers the best of both worlds.
Way back in 2009, when Americans were mostly focused on Obama starting his first term as president of the United States, the War on Terror had not yet faded into the background, and the death of Michael Jackson was briefly disrupting the lives of pop music fans everywhere, Dutch publisher Royal Jongbloed was introducing the dwarsligger (and if you are like me and can’t pronounce that, it is also being called a flipback book or a mini book). These small volumes are putting some of the most popular books quite literally into the palm of the reader’s hand. Meant to be read using only one hand—with the thumb flipping the pages—this new design can simulate the experience of scrolling on your phone to read (but with no social media notifications to distract you). The new format provides an unabridged story in a lightweight container small enough to fit in your back pocket. Over ten million copies of flipback books have already been sold in Europe since their launch, and now they are in the United States.
We have Dutton Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Penguin, to thank for bringing this new option to the States. Toward the end of 2018, Dutton launched their first set of tester flipback books in the form of four of best-selling YA novelist John Green’s most popular novels: Looking for Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines, Paper Towns, and The Fault in Our Stars. They come in an adorable box set (if you are interested in that sort of thing), but they are also being sold separately. If you are curious enough to want a flipback book but aren’t particularly interested in any of these first four, there are more to come. By the end of 2019 you will be able to find classic titles like Anne of Green Gables, The Little Princess, and The Outsiders, as well as newer titles like Marie Lu’s Legend and Ally Condie’s Matched. At least initially, it seems Dutton will be focusing its project on YA novels to build its fan base.
Will this new form of reading technology catch on? Will we see this evolution turn into a revolution? Who knows? But it is great to see how as the way we read and take in information changes, the physical form of the books we love is changing too.