Flipback books: shirtpocket format designed for one-handed reading

The Dutch publishing industry's "flipback" format sounds clever: it's a sideways-bound book with a lie-flat binding, printed on onionskin, sized to fit in a shirt pocket and optimized for easy one-handed reading. More than a million have been sold in the Netherlands and now it's to be introduced in the UK, France and Spain. It sounds like a handy format, though "Could this new book kill the Kindle?" probably takes the prize for silliest Guardian headline of the year to date.
It is all the rage in Holland, where it was introduced in 2009, and has since sold 1m copies. A version has just been launched in Spain, France is next, and the flipback reaches UK shores in June, when Hodder & Stoughton will treat us to a selection of 12 books. They cost £9.99, and will include David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas and Stephen King's Misery.

I am keen to see what the hype is about so I take a pre-released copy on my travels: Chris Cleave's The Other Hand. Nearly 370 pages long in its original format, the flipback version has more than 550 - but still fits easily in my pocket. The book's not called The Other Hand for nothing. It's so small that I can perch it in one fist, and keep my other hand free for shopping. How? The paper is wafer-thin.

Could this new book kill the Kindle? (via MeFi)

(Image: Linda Nylind/Guardian)


  1. If it doesn’t have DRM then it already beats the Kindle in my book: I’d actually consider buying one.

  2. I like it. Sounds like a convenient format for carrying on a plane or keeping handy. What no link for perusing available titles? I guess no one is selling them yet?

  3. I want this so it will be easier to read while driving. It’ll leave my other hand free for texting!

  4. .
    wafer thin?
    paper thin?
    single-crystal gallium arsenide molecular beam epitaxy
    now *that’s* thin!
    how about opaque mylar
    wouldn’t that be thinner than onionskin?
    thick books pushed me to kindle 1
    … ok, cryptonomicon
    i wonder how thick that would be
    in this format on well-engineered plastic film

  5. A neat combo would be a pack of blank books and a printer designed to print into the bound books.

  6. “optimized for easy one-handed reading”

    Hmm, I can think of one application

    [/obvious joke]

  7. Wasn’t this technique used in the 19th century by Univ of Oxford Press? I believe it used India paper, wafer thin, etc., and soft leather, so the entire Book of Common Prayer could fit in a chest pocket and the Bible could fit in a coat pocket.

    1. I agree, at least for mass-market paperbacks. And I’m not clear on how rotating the orientation makes it easier to hold.

  8. I find it odd when book versions which seem as though they should cost significantly less than a mass-market paperback, in fact, cost far more. This is also my primary gripe with ebook vendors (DRM comes second since it doesn’t actually work).

  9. I was loving this idea until I got to the £9.99 bit.

    Save for a few exceptions the only new books I used to buy were penguin classics because their also fairly pocket sized and at £2 a pop (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Frankenstein-Prometheus-Penguin-Popular-Classics/dp/0140620303/), pretty disposable. You don’t care if the cover of your £2 book get’s trashed because it’s in your pocket. I used to buy plenty of second hand books too, at 20p-£2.

    The last book to break the aforementioned was The Windup Girl http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/0356500535/ which was brand new the week it came out at £8, I think. Now it’s half the price of what the equivalent flip book version would be.

    I got a Cybook Opus for £190 and Frankenstein is legally free and most ebooks I’ve wanted are available for £1-5. There’s also cheaper ways…

    Basically I figure my price point is about £2, not £10 and the additional £8 isn’t worth it for the portability because while carrying it it’ll still get messed up and I only care about £10 books getting messed up, not the £2 normal version…

  10. 9.99, you’ve got to be joking.

    also, wafer thin is a very strange thing to say about paper–i know of no wafers that are thinner than the average page in a book, that’s for sure

  11. The dutch flipback books are pretty awesome, they’re very small which makes them ideal to take with you, as they take up less space and weigh a lot less than a pocket/paperback book.

    oh, and mpb: the first dutch flipback was, in fact, a bible translation. They wanted to make an easy-to-bring-along bible. the really special thing isn’t the paper though, it’s the book’s spine, which allows it to stay open. the photos and movies on the official dutch side explain it a bit better: http://www.dwarsligger.nl/dwarsligger.php

    1. I watched the video…
      1. She’s clearly using two hands to read
      2. She looks like she’s up to something nefarious with those shifty eyes
      3. Having studied German for years and years, I was pleasantly surprised to understand much of the video! It’s like a nifty German/English amalgamation!

  12. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the person in the photo appears to be using two hands to read this amazing book from the future.

  13. I’ve been wondering if someone was going to find a way of getting people to pay trade-paperback prices for something with the convenient form-factor of a rack-sized paperback. It’s annoying that publishers have been conditioning readers for more than half a century to associate convenient sizing with cheapness.

    Anyone know what the type size is like?

  14. Japanese paperbacks (文庫本) are seriously small — standardized dimensions and at least a couple of centimeters smaller in height than the smallest Western paperback (including Penguin) in my possession — and use really thin paper that makes it possible to cram 500 pages into less than 1.5 cm thick books. If it gets too thick (>500 pages) it just gets split it into multiple volumes. They are more or less designed for one-handed reading while on the train and holding on to something with your other hand.

    Still Perfect bound though.

  15. “all the rage” might be a bit of an overstatement, actually. I would truly be surprised if the average Dutch reader has ever seen one of these things.

  16. All the rage in Holland? I’ve seen like three people with them… Doesn’t really count as a rage does it? And I don’t really buy that they sold a million, numbers Cory, I want to see numbers!

  17. Re: size. Time was in computer gaming that the bigger the packaging, the more valuable the buyer would believe the content to be. It’s taken time, but we seem to have settled on a “fat DVD case” standard (except for the Collectors Editions, which fill half a shed). It’s nice to see that Blu-ray disks have less exterior packaging than DVD’s had, although they could easily be put into standard CD cases without issue.

    The “trade paperback” deal always struck me as spurious: we’ll charge you hard bound prices for a somewhat bigger paperback? Why? It’s no more durable, it’s no more well manufactured, it just costs more, takes up more space, and isn’t even large type. Pointless outside of marketing — people will pay more for bigger things.

    Size does matter: and for some things, smaller is better.

  18. Anyone else reminded of Yueh’s miniature Orange Catholic Bible for space travelers in Dune?

  19. This is very similar to my experience with the iphone as a ebook reader with Stanza or Instapaper. I can hold it in one hand and easily flip quickly between pages. Clearly the ease of use is trumping the traditional format of the book.

  20. My electronic device does this better! At lower price! ALSO, pages may be used by children to roll tobacco! ALSO, several suitcases of this thing can fit in different format in my electronic device!

    ALBEIT this thing does not have induced DRM limitations of this other thing. But price is high! But also price of beer is high, and who counts? Also price of milk is high. And COWS!

    I will never buy this thing. Except maybe ALSO, I will be first in line to buy this thing. ALSO*

    *I have never seen this in real life, nor held it, nor have I any experience with it, save for a very small, bad resoluted picturialization. But all my opinions are valid.

    *ALSO shame on all for printing on sad dried corpse skins of onions. Sad dried corpse skins of onion LAMPS no doubt on your nightstables. HITLERS!

    *AHEM*… sorry, late, drinky.

  21. I live in The Netherlands and these books have become ever more popular. What started in the autumn of 2009 with nine titles is currently available in more than one hundred titles. They are small and very convenient. Excellent for journey or holidays. These books are available in every bookstore in the country. It is truly a big hit! On million sold for a population of 16 million is not bad at all :-). I recommend these (no commercial interest al all!) highly.

    In The Netherlands they are called: Dwarsligger. See their website.

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