papillon The Literary Platform has an editorial by Matt Young, the founder of a small publishing house called InPrint Books. InPrint has a couple of gimmicks—it creates books with colored covers made entirely from different colors of paper, with no ink involved, produces them in lots of only 1,000 numbered copies, and it doesn’t do e-books. (The editorial is prefaced by a rather smug commercial on YouTube doing the whole “I’m a Mac/I’m a PC” thing with a book and an e-book.)

Looking at the site, this publisher seems to be going heavily into the idea of books as artifacts, or even art—generally doing reprintings of “classic” works such as Great Expectations or 1984, and limiting the size of (and numbering) the print run. These books are for book-as-artifact snobs, plain and simple—they’re produced as collector’s items, not mass market titles. They’re meant to be appreciated, not actually read.

As one might expect, the piece has an obvious pro-print book bias. Young admits that e-books are probably going to become the norm sooner or later—but they’ll never replace printed books, because darn it, printed books are just awesome.

(And yes, the smell of a book is practically the first thing he brings up.)

Young closes by wondering if it’s “possible to fall in love with an eBook” and says he has yet to see any proof of it. This leaves me scratching my head, as I’ve “fallen in love” with plenty of e-books, the same as I have with plenty of hardcovers or paperbacks.

A book is a book, no matter what the format. It’s a story that transports me to another place and time. If it does it will, I will fall in love with it. I won’t stop myself because it doesn’t have the feel or smell of a “real” book. I mean, what the heck? I don’t go around telling people, “I’m going to feel some J.R.R. Tolkien tonight,” or “Gosh, A Fire Upon the Deep sure smelled exciting!”

I’ll admit I may have just as much a pro-e-book bias as Young has the opposite, but it’s never made much sense to me to fetishize the form factor of a book at the expense of its content. If you have problems “getting into” an e-book, that’s a problem with you, not a problem with the medium.

A paper book may be an artifact while an e-book is just a file, but I don’t read it because it’s an artifact. I read it because it’s a book.


  1. I think you might be over-exaggerating a little.

    A child today isn’t going to know what it’s like to have a record collection and sit there and admire the album cover and “features” that came with them.

    There is definitely a difference between a book and an e-book. (although I personally prefer the latter)

  2. There’s the part in the Hunchback of Notre Dame (movie) where the King laments seeing books being produced by the newly invented printing-press, since his handwritten books “are more beautiful,” but then says that the printing-press is the future. (The Archbishop declares the printing-press as the “work of the devil.”) Ironically, ebook publishing is now the new printing-press, it seems.

  3. You may want to click one of the ‘Buy’ buttons on . If you do, you’ll get the message:

    “Wow, erm… thank you.

    I didn’t actually expect anybody to click that link.

    Did you genuinely want to buy the book or were you merely clicking out of curiosity?”

    It then goes on:

    “Unfortunately, Inprint books aren’t really for sale. In fact, Inprint isn’t even a genuine book publishing label – Inprint was created by me, Matthew Young as part of my graduation project at university (I’m studying Graphic & Communication Design at the University of Leeds)…”

    I love my Kindle, but his “books” look gorgeous!

  4. Somebody should make a “book-smelling” deodorant. Just to check if these book-smellers really do love that.

    People who buy books for the “smell” or the “look”, don’t read them anyway. I buy my books for the words.

  5. If you click on one of the buy options you will learn that these books don’t actually exist. The page reads “Inprint books aren’t really for sale. In fact, Inprint isn’t even a genuine book publishing label – Inprint was created by me, Matthew Young as part of my graduation project at university (I’m studying Graphic & Communication Design at the University of Leeds).” – see

  6. I believe Matt Young is right, in that paper books will not die out and will continue to be produced and widely sold for decades to come.
    He is clearly deluded when it comes to his fetishising of the book experience. These are emotions that arise from his childhood. I have some similar feelings about new, unopened, books that I got from my dear Mother.
    But my son’s children are very unlikely to develop these feelings and their children even less so.
    But don’t underestimate human being’s attachment to objects and their attachment to embodying experiences within an object. Paper books will always tap into that inner part of us. Imho.

  7. Okay, so I didn’t actually click on the “Buy” link. (Why would I? I have no possible interest in buying one.) But I’d just like to note that nothing in the piece on The Literary Platform indicates InPrint is a non-selling graduation project rather than a “real” publisher, which I think is more than a little dishonest.

    Anyway, it doesn’t really change anything about his point of view, or mine. Perhaps it even makes his position a little worse: if he really thought people would want to buy these object d’art editions rather than e-books (or ordinary hardcover or paperback books, for that matter), he’d put his money where his mouth is.

  8. Hm. ‘Book as art’? Or ‘manufactured rarity’? ‘Great Expectations’? Seems appropriate.

    Publishers have been monetizing public domain titles forever — sounds like these guys are ‘super-monetizing’. Not that it isn’t a monstrous amount of work to produce such a thing. It just seems a little contrived, and 1000 copies still sounds like mass production to me. They might want to price each copy lower than an iPod touch. Yeah, it’ll last forever (that paper had better be acid free) — but it’ll also be ‘Great Expectations’ forever.

  9. Hello there,

    I couldn’t help but enjoy the article you wrote about Inprint Books. As the creator of this (non-existent) publishing company, I just wanted to add a few comments of my own in response.

    Inprint Books was (is) an experiment. As you have now realised, it was created as part of my graduation project at university. I studied Graphic Design at the University of Leeds. As a designer, the aim of my project was simply to design a set of books that people wanted to buy. After all, if I couldn’t design things that people wanted, then I wouldn’t be a very good designer.

    Chris, in your article you quite rightly say “These books are for book-as-artifact snobs”. You’re spot on. Those “snobs”, or “bibliophiles” as they usually prefer to be known, are willing to fork out plenty of money for a beautiful book. There’s a market for these kind of books, and a demand for these kind of books. So what is wrong with creating books as objets d’art? Just because it’s not to your taste? I don’t like the art of Jordan Greywolf, but it’s clear from your website that you do. We’re all different.

    You say it is possible to fall in love with an eBook (and, as I mentioned in my original article on The Literary Platform, I’m not ruling it out) but I think what you mean is, it’s possible to fall in love with a story. Like you say, if it’s a well written and engaging story, I will fall in love with it, no matter what the medium. The story remains the same whether it’s on paper or on a screen.

    But as well as the story, I also often fall in love with the way it is packaged. Just like we can all fall in love with a good story, I can fall in love with a good design, or a good piece of art. I realise this might not be the case for everyone – I am a designer by trade, so of course I’m going to be biased. I personally, am yet to see an eReader, or an eBook that is as beautiful as a printed book. Admittedly, some apps, such as Alice for the iPad by Atomic Antelope, come close, but just not close enough to make me use the word “love”.

    You say that Inprint books “fetishize the form factor of a book at the expense of its content”. I agree that I’m “fetishising” the form – that’s the whole point of the books – but how exactly is this at the expense of their content?

    You mention a couple of times that I am “anti-eBooks”. That is not the case. I love my iPhone. I have a few eBooks on it, as well as countless magazines and PDFs. I’m not going to pretend I read eBooks all the time – I don’t – but I certainly don’t have a problem with them.

    Like I said at the beginning, Inprint is an experiment, and the best way to drum up attention for my experiment, was the books vs. eBooks animations. I’m not seriously trying to convert people who already read eBooks, or even the people who are still undecided about eBooks. It’s just a publicity stunt, using humour and a little mild controversy, and so far it seems to be working.

  10. And to respond to some of the other comments here:

    Why am I deluded for “fetishising” the book experience? There are countless ‘bibliophiles’ out there who do the same thing. There are numerous blogs devoted to the “fetishising” of books, just as this one is devoted to e-books and publishing.

    @Chris (again)
    I understand you didn’t click on the “buy” button. Of course you wouldn’t if these aren’t the kind of books you’re into. I realise that the ‘fake’ nature of this publishing company is kept somewhat hidden – that is deliberate. It’s an experiment, and I wanted to see how well it would work. If I told people from the beginning that it’s a university project, it wouldn’t work half as well.

    As for being “dishonest” – I informed Sophie Rochester (editor of The Literary Platform) that it was a graduation project and not a real company, before I even began writing that article, and we agreed that it wasn’t a problem.

    You say this perhaps even makes my position a little worse? And that I should put my money where my mouth is? Well, as you know, I’m a student. I’ve just graduated from university, and I currently have £24,000 worth of debt to pay back. I don’t even know how I’m going to pay my next month’s rent. As soon as I have any money, the first place I’ll be putting it, is where my mouth is.

    You’re right, 1,000 copies of each does still sound a bit like mass production. If this were a real company, I think I’d lower it to 100 instead. As for “pricing each copy lower than an iPod touch” – did you even look at the website? I’d intend to sell the books for £25 each. Considerably less than an iPod touch.

  11. Hi Matthew – my point was that your emotional fetishising of books (like my own emotions about new unopened books) is something that arises from your own emotional upbringing and these emotions are far less likely to arise among the next generation and even less so among the generation after that. I am saying this because I believe they will not be exposed to real paper books to a fraction of the level we were or our children right now are.
    I didn’t mean to rubbish your own feelings about the books. I was looking at it as a business for the future.
    However as I have written elsewhere I do believe that there will be a continuing long term market for paper books and also for special edition books, produced with special covers, binding and quality paper.

  12. As Matthew says, you need to separate the story from the medium. As a medium, books have qualities that ereaders do not, and visa versa. Matthew acknowledges this, but if you were selling a product, you wouldn’t bang on about the competition’s winning points, would you? So why are you so surprised (and upset!) by his marketing? Yes, the selling points of Inprint books are not geared towards the practical, whilst ereaders are. But why does that make them gimmicky or any less valuable? Its like comparing artists and engineers and trying to say that one is more valuable than the other. 

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