On a visit to a friendly local bookstore earlier this week, I got my hands on a Flipback. I hadn’t heard of them before, but apparently they’re ‘the next big thing’, or ‘the next big little thing’, as publisher Hodder would have it. Flipback books originated in the Netherlands, where they were introduced in 2009, and Hodder have big plans to expand sales across Europe, with the small-format books being introduced into France, Spain and the UK later this month.
Flipbacks are sideways-bound books which incorporate a lie-flat binding. The pages are printed on very thin, Bible-like paper, and the small size means that the books easily fit in a pocket or a bag. The thinness of the paper and the titchiness of the format even means that you can read one-handed, leaving your other hand free for, um, anything you like.
My first impression of the Flipback was that the size of the reading area is slightly bigger than a smartphone, and slightly smaller than a Kindle screen, with a typeface that mimics the sort of lettering found on digital devices. It was nicely tactile and easy to hold, and, as with any new format, I’m sure it’ll ignite a fair bit of interest in the casual book-browser.
There seems to be a bit of a print-based backlash against the digital book at the moment, with Lane Smith’s It’s a Book popping up in bookshops everywhere, and publishers aiming at book-lovers by producing deluxe versions of well-loved titles, such as Penguin’s Clothbound Classics. I think that the Flipback will join this backlash, and will be bought by readers who are keen to identify themselves as battery-free paper-based book-people, helping to keep ‘proper’ books alive. There will be 12 titles at launch, aiming at a wide demographic of readers, including Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy by John le Carré, The Adventure of English by Melvyn Bragg, One Day by David Nicholls, and Misery by Stephen King.
Now, I love printed books, and I love bookshops, but I’m not willing to mark myself out as either a digital or printed-book person. I think there’s space for both in the marketplace, and it’s a marketplace which is, for me, a full-time student on a limited income, dominated by price. And it’s price where I think the Flipback falls down.
Lets look at one of the launch titles, One Day by David Nicholls. My local independent bookshop has this title on sale, in paperback, for £7.99. Amazon has a new paperback copy for £3.98, including delivery. The Kindle edition is £4.99. The Flipback version is the most expensive of the lot, coming in at £9.99. As much as I genuinely like the Flipback format, I can’t really justify spending the extra pounds. Add in the fact that most of the launch titles are already in the marketplace, available in second-hand bookshops and libraries, and the 10 quid price-point starts to look a bit silly.
Perhaps I’m being a bit tight on the Flipback here – it’s a fun new format that’s attractive, and it’ll get people talking about books and going into bookshops, which is no bad thing. But let’s keep things in perspective. The answer to the Guardian’s rather silly headline – “Could this new book kill the Kindle?” is a simple “no”.