Publishers and retailers are always looking for new ways for a book to stand out in the crowd. Sometimes they employ well known designers and artists to something visually compelling with an anniversary edition or bookstores will sometimes employ small motifs for bestsellers such as 50 Shades of Grey. This is all going to change with the advent of 3D printing technology.
In January 2014 Riverhead Books developed a 3D slipcover for And Chang-rae Lee’s On Such a Full Sea. Riverhead holds the distinction of being the first publisher to ever do something like this. The white slipcover, into which the book fits neatly, features the letters of the title rising off the surface at an angle, and the idea all along was to do something unlike anything ever seen in the world of publishing, Riverhead’s art director, Helen Yentus said “I didn’t even think we’d be able to do it, because it’s such a new and innovative technology.”
Yentus continues “A couple years ago, we thought this was the end of print and we’d just be going cheaper and cheaper and cheaper until the physical book disappears, because you could just get the e-book. With these special editions, I can’t say 100% but I do think that we are trying to create a physical object that people would want to keep and have, probably as a response to the growth of the e-book,” she says. “There’s a lot of pressure to innovate. For us, at least in my mind, this has turned out to be a really successful result of that search.”
The finished design, which took 15 hours to print, was made for a special-edition run of 200 signed copies for sale—a number partially decided by how many could physically be printed in time for the shelf date. Each copy cost $150, so it certainly costs more than your standard e-book.
Retail stores such as Barnes and Noble or Chapters/Indigo could really take advantage of getting the stores designers to come up with a new way to make books stand out. Most books do not have custom display stands and merely sit on tables. If the store was really behind a new book that was coming out and was a surefire bestseller, they could print up a few 3D slipcovers per store in order to capture the shoppers attention. Likely local and national press would cover this story, giving the bookseller something new and cutting edge to talk about.
Publishers could also orchestrate a limited run of a book cover or slipcover that is 3D and even include an autograph by the author. I know if a new book by William Gibson or Neil Gaimon came out and was one of a kind, with a very limited run, I would certainly spend $200 on it and use it as a status symbol.
3D printing is relatively a new thing and traditional industries have yet to employ it in an meaningful way. It tends to chiefly be used by geeks and hobbyists that are looking to get some street cred on Reditt or a message board. As Riverhead Books as demonstrated there is a market for this sort of thing.