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GUEST BLOG: Flipback to the future

4th July 2011 - Kate Parkin

Kate Parkin divides her time between her work as Flipback publisher for Hodder & Stoughton and as a commissioning editor at John Murray Publishers. "I saw my first Flipback at a dinner in France last year when I tripped over a fellow guest's handbag and out fell a book - in Dutch - in a format I had never seen before. I just never thought there would be something new to discover like this and I was so excited that I leapt straight on a plane to Holland to beg the inventor to let us have the exclusive English language licence...."

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Most revolutions start with a new idea. This is a new idea that started with a revolution in which a conventional book is, literally, turned on its head so that you open it top to bottom to read. It's also a story that started with the oldest story of all - the Bible.

The genius behind the new flipback book format is Jongloed, a Dutch printer and publisher of bibles with a factory and book bindery on a small industrial estate in a small town in the north of the Netherlands. With a big supply of very thin bible paper and machines configured to non-standard book formats, they wondered why books always opened the same way. What they invented and dubbed the 'dwarsligger' - it means 'transverse' in Dutch and is also used to describe someone who is a bit stubborn, a maverick, someone who likes to do something different - became a bookselling phenomenon in Holland.

Teaming up with one of the Netherlands' biggest publishers, and after extensive market research, they launched the first list in the autumn of 2009. There are now more than 100 titles available in Dutch and more than a million copies of the format in print - and on a population of only 16 million!

The Spanish version was launched a year later, the French in April of this year and Hodder & Stoughton has just published the first twelve titles in English ( see complete list below). More will follow in the autumn and we are very excited to be publishing our first classics - three Jane Austens - for Christmas. Altogether there will be over two million books in flipback format in circulation in Europe by the end of the year.

Piece of My Heart flipbookSo what, in a world of the e-reader and the ipad, is it about the flipbacks that makes them so appealing? For a start, they are absolutely lovely to hold. The production values are high - lovely covers, beautiful bindings, clear type - and they feel great in the hand. And then they are incredibly easy to read. The books fall open (no broken spines) naturally, they are very light to hold and, of course, they never need charging.

Being pocket-sized and perfect also makes them a great little gift. In an increasingly miniaturised word, to have a whole book the size of a mobile phone which fits into your pocket but also opens out so you have a page the same size as a conventional paperback, is incredibly convenient. It's been so interesting watching people pick them up for the first time - they stroke them, play with them, 'flip' them - it's a tactile experience and we've had a very excited response from everyone we have shown them to.

Our first twelve titles are all modern 'classics' - books that are already well known and loved, including David Nicholls's One Day, John Le Carre's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and Stephen King's Misery. We have plans for many more - but we are already being bombarded by 'early adopters' with their own ideas for titles they would like to see in the format. We've got a Facebook page and we are tweeting regularly (@flipbackbooks), we would really like this to be a collaborative process in which readers tell us what they think. So watch out for titles on display in Foyles - and join the Reading Revolution. Because the next little thing could be very big indeed!

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