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Observer, Paper-over-Board, and Oprah

OK, I threw my little fit about this on Facebook, and now that that’s out of my system, I can take a more tempered, critical look at Leon Neyfakh’s article in today’s New York Observer about books without dust jackets. (It’s new! It’s hip! It’s trendy!)

September will see the publication of three unusual-looking books: Farrar, Straus and Giroux’s No Impact Man by Colin Beavan, Viking’s Bicycle Diaries by former Talking Head David Byrne, and Graywolf’s The Adderall Diaries by Stephen Elliott. What makes these books so unusual-looking is that, even though they’re hardcovers, their cover art is not printed on dust jackets but instead stamped directly onto the boards that hug their pages. The result is a handsome, eye-catching look that reflects a heightened awareness on the part of publishers that books these days cannot be counted on to simply sell themselves.

Wow, really? I’ve never heard of any press publishing books in such a radical format. . . . Sorry—I can’t not be sarcastic and pissed about this. Especially since I wrote an editorial about it a couple months ago.

What really bugs me about this article is how Pitchfork-y it is. (Pitchfork being one of the largest music websites out there, with more influence than just about any publication. And its influence is directly correlated to how half-assed its reviews are. Reviews that come with numerical scores so that you don’t actually have to read the review. Which is usually gibberish anyway. Ah, but I digress.) What I mean is, that Neyfakh is trying to be a trendsetter with this piece. It’s like he suddenly discovered three similar books in his office, decided he would be an early adopter of the paper-over-board fan club and wrote a piece without typing word one into Google in order to research it.

But that’s fine. I mean, whatever. Every reporter (or person) wants a bit of glory. Wants to be ahead of the curve. And who can blame him?

By writing a trendsetter piece though, he’s ignoring both the history of paper-over-board and the potential problems this format can cause. Maybe his American bias explains the fact that he doesn’t know that this format is extremely popular (actually, pretty standard) in countries all over the world. Americans really can’t be expected to know about anywhere beyond our borders—I’m sure we can all agree with that.

And the shelving and sales problems are nicely articulated by Dustin at McNally Jackson in this post.

I’ll be honest here: I’m mostly miffed because Open Letter wasn’t mentioned in the article the Observer bought and then destroyed VeryShortList. And that’s a crime of the highest order.

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I’m not sure I’m getting Oprah’s quote usage in this announcement about her next book club pick . . . Maybe “this” is in the “title”?



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