May 2, 2013

What to do when you have no spine: The Atlantic publishes ebooks


“Awarded to only the very best books about mermen available.”

As Laura Hazard Owen of paidContent reports, The Atlantic announced Wednesday that they will begin publishing ebooks under a new venture called The Atlantic Books. The press will publish “original long-form pieces between 10,000 and 30,000 words, and curated archival collections that span the magazine’s 155-year history and feature some of the best-loved voices in American letters.”

There’s no word yet as to where the press came up with such a strange, original name. As yet their books are only available in the Kindle Single format, though The Atlantic has said they’ll soon be expanding availability to include Nook and Kobo stores.

The first book in their series is a work of memoir, Denial: My Twenty-Five years Without a Soul by Jonathan Rauch. The book would seem to be well-written, and a solid first venture. But who among us cares about what’s inside of books anymore? Let’s talk about the cover.

Ebooks pose a dramatic problem for designers. You have no back cover. Where, then, to put all those big-name blurbs? Where to put your plot synopsis? The same copy that would be on the back now resides in the book descriptions on book’s page on Indiebound or Zola or Amazon, but the that artless black and white pool of editorial effluent can’t rival the luster a good designer can give a book’s textual elements.

A more subtle problem, however, is just this: where to put the colophon. Most publishers traditionally put the colophon on the spine so that it doesn’t clutter up the front and, more importantly, so that when a book browser happens upon the book in a shop she might see the mark of the publishing house and think “Ah, they make great books, I should examine this one” or, and this is perhaps the more usual train of thought, “Ah, I like penguins, they waddle, so cute, maybe this is a book about penguins? I should look.”

Well The Atlantic Books—I still can’t get over how original that name is; how did they come up with that?—has turned that problem into sweet, deceitful lemonade. See that gold medallion on the cover of their ebook? What prize did the book win, do you suppose? Look closely: that’s right, this book won a gold medal for being published by The Atlantic Books. Their actual colophon is a gold medal with Poseidon in the center.

That is brilliant. Wicked, but great. The press itself should be awarded a medal for not giving a single damn.


Dustin Kurtz is the marketing manager of Melville House, and a former bookseller.