Forget The Kindle Fire, Pick Up A Flipback

The publishing industry's latest attempt to revive the beloved book continues with the flipback, a book the size of an iPhone. But does it have any merit beyond novelty value?
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By now, you’ll have read One Day, David Nicholls’ expertly crafted concept novel that details a will-they won’t-they relationship on the same day each year. Personally, I read it expecting to thoroughly dislike it, sure that I would be able to make a huge list of saccharine ploys and clanging attempts at wacky dialogue. As yet, that list remains unwritten. In fact, much against my better judgement, I was rather affected by reading it. All the emotional heft of cluelessly coming of age and the cloying sense that university really was the best time of your life hit home.

Clearly, the nation felt the same. One Day has been selected as a launch title for a brand new way of reading – the flipback. Essentially a notepad with a novel inside it printed sideways, it’s expected to take the literary world by proverbial storm and provide yet another option for the commuter market. One Day is a perfect choice to launch this rather brainless enterprise. An established bestseller, selling over 60,000 copies last week alone and with a film adaptation already dividing opinion (and driving people back to the novel), it’s placed perfectly to buoy the marketing campaign.

Of course, the marketing campaign is fairly useless when you consider the product. According to the official flipback website, it’s perfect for your journey to work and various other peak reading times because it’s “little more than the size of an iPhone.” Now if only there was something that was the size of an iPhone that might even hold your entire book collection… It’s the literary equivalent of carrying a minidisc in your pocket. And if you’re on the tube at rush hour, well, saving a few centimetres isn’t going to stop you having scrape your arm along the belly of a sweaty suit to turn the page.

The makers of this format talk of a reading revolution, but it’s time to accept that people just like books.

So what happens after the launch titles, which include Stephen King’s Misery and David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas? Just think of the books that are going to end up in this supposedly more digestible format. Don’t tell The Gideons about flipbacks, or else we’ll be finding copies of The Good Book wedged in ashtrays, between seats on trains and shoved under the front door. More widely, though, the whole idea of portability in books only goes so far. Certain books are destined to be left at home, not flipped through on the train. Compact them into these thin-leaved pocket books and we lose the grandeur of the tome, the weightiness, the thud on the coffee table.

In more practical terms, the flipback version of One Day retails at £9.99. A quick Amazon search shows that a paperback copy could plop on your doormat in the next few days for about a fiver. The makers of this format talk of a reading revolution, but it’s time to accept that people just like books. We don’t need any more reading revolutions. We are now preoccupied with how we read our books more than what we actually think of the books themselves.

The increase of eBook sales looks to be the major focus for publishers’ revenue streams and readers alike in the coming years, so is there even room for another format? For the meantime, there probably is. The ensuing adolescence of the eBook is surely a far more profitable and truly portable endeavour, but novelty value will carry the flipback through to legitimacy. Have no doubts; tubes, trains and suitcases will soon be full of tiny versions of One Day, and any number of other books that require no such transformation.

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