Big Changes, Small Books

Benjamin Franklin once said that there is nothing certain save for death and taxes. Although this may seem to ring true in a world that changes as rapidly as ours, Franklin failed to take into account some pretty integral things, one being books. For as long as they have existed, books have remained essentially the same. If you’re a traditionalist you’re probably pretty happy about that.

Change, however, can bring about good. The most recent significant innovation in the book industry was, of course, the e-book. Although many insist that e-books are poor substitutes for the real thing, they have increased the portability and convenience of books, as well as helped bookworms to reduce their carbon footprint and save paper.

Although it’s hard to imagine any further innovation being made to the medium (save for anything that might involve futuristic, sci-fiesque technology), Penguin Random House aims to do just that with the release of Penguin Minis, a brand-new, cellphone-sized book format.

The publisher brought a big name to the small format. On Oct. 23, four of John Green’s best-selling books were released in the miniature format. What’s most radical about these books? They read horizontally. Instead of turning pages in the traditional manner, readers flip them upwards, similar to scrolling on a phone screen.


While this format is new to the American market, the flipbook style debuted in the Netherlands in 2009. Called Dwarsliggers, the miniatures are immensely popular in Europe where nearly 10 million copies of books by classic authors, such as Scott F. Fitzgerald and Agatha Christie, and contemporary authors, such as Dan Brown and Ian McEwan, alike have been sold.

Julie Strauss-Gabel, president of Dutton Books for Young Readers, a division of Penguin Young Readers, was inspired to adapt the style when she came across copies of Green’s Dutch dwarsliggers.

According to the New York Times, she pursued partnership with the Dutch printer, Royal Jongbloed, one of the only printers in the world that produces dwarsliggers due to the need for a rare ultrathin and durable paper produced in a village in Finland.

Although pursuing a new form of book may seem risky, Green was on board as soon as the idea was proposed to him by his publisher: “I haven’t seen a new book format that I thought was at all interesting,” he said to the Washington Post, “but I find this format really usable and super-portable.”

Penguin’s target demographic is young readers who may be more flexible, and, therefore, more receptive to a new style of reading. “We know that young readers, especially, still prefer print books, but are drawn to the portability of reading on their devices. We want to be right there with them – on the go, for summer vacations, or as the perfect stocking stuffer,” said Jennifer Loja, President of Penguin Young Readers, in a press release.

In the first print run of the minis, 500,000 copies were made available nationwide in retailers such as Barnes & Noble, Walmart and Target as well as independent bookstores. Additional titles are set to be released in 2019.


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