I just now came across this December 2011 Guardian article about the renewed interest publishers and (human) readers are taking in the well-designed printed book — a consumer trend that may be relevant to fine presses.
The author argues that the rise of ebooks hasn’t created two camps of readers — those who prefer printed books OR ebooks — consumers seem to be appreciating both:
“What the rise of electronic publishing has done, rather, is create a context in which the book’s two distinct incarnations — as beautiful object and as a set of vaporous pixels — are linked not by “or” but “and” […] The rise of the ebook has, paradoxically, made us more rather than less appreciative of its four-cornered cousin. Until just a few years ago you picked up a [printed] book without really thinking about it, but now it has become something to ponder. And that pondering — by readers, authors and publishers — seems already to be paying off.
This is certainly what they believe at the Folio Society. You might think that a company that has dedicated itself since 1947 to publishing exquisite editions of classic texts — everything from Beowulf to Elizabeth David’s Italian Food — would be feeling glum about its chances in this new landscape. But David Hayden, the publishing director and a bookselling veteran, is feeling perky. An unabashed fan of new technology, he reckons the result of the seismic shifts in publishing will mean “fewer and better-produced books”. In particular he believes in the model of the “retroactive purchase”, which goes something like this. You buy an e-reader and, at a stroke, have access to thousands of out-of-print classics via Project Gutenberg. One evening, at a loose end, you download The Mill on the Floss, having always wondered vaguely what it was about. You find yourself transfixed. You love this book, you really do, and want to suggest it to your book group. So you buy the Penguin Classic edition, because it’s easy to scribble on and pass around. And then, when your Mum’s birthday comes around — she loves George Eliot and has been on at you for ages to take the plunge — you give her a handsome presentation copy of the book, bound in buckram and silk, the sort of thing that the Folio Society does surpassingly well.”
This bodes well for fine presses who can market editions of the classics; but what about fine presses who publish new work by contemporary authors? Where do these books fit in this consumer trend?
— Paul Razzell