But in the last few decades, most of the pivotal advances in publishing have been digital, with the evolution of e-books and digital audio.
Recently, some publishers have tried shrinking print books as a way to repackage older backlist titles, in an effort to entice readers to buy new editions of books they already know and love, and own. Three years ago, Picador released mini books by Denis Johnson, Jeffrey Eugenides, Hermann Hesse and Marilynne Robinson — the tiny editions are 5 13/16 inches tall by 3 11/16 inches wide — to celebrate the imprint’s 20th anniversary. The form was so popular with independent booksellers that Picador decided to publish another collection in 2017 — of nonfiction titles by Hilary Mantel, Susan Sontag, Joan Didion and Barbara Ehrenreich — and is planning to release more next fall.
Ms. Strauss-Gabel began her mission to import flipbacks to America this year, when she received Dutch editions of two of Mr. Green’s novels. She was startled by their size and ingenious design — the spine operates like a hinge that swings open, making it easier to turn the pages. She contacted the Dutch printer, Royal Jongbloed, and asked if Dutton could become partners with the company to print English editions. Jongbloed, which was founded in 1862 as a bookshop and later became a Bible printer, created the flipback format in 2009, and quickly realized there was a wide audience for compact, portable books. They have since released 570 titles in the Netherlands alone, including works by Mr. McEwan, Jonathan Safran Foer, Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Philip Kerr.
But getting English flipback editions of Mr. Green’s books proved endlessly complicated. Jongbloed is currently the only printer in the world that makes them, using ultrathin but durable paper from a mill in a village in Finland. The first sample pages that Jongbloed sent looked cluttered, with letters and words crammed too close together. Dutton’s designers experimented with different fonts and spacing and sent the printer a revised layout. Reformatting “An Abundance of Katherines,” a book that has footnotes and mathematical equations, was especially tricky.
“We’re in a situation where millimeters count,” Ms. Strauss-Gabel said.
It’s unclear if even a literary and social media supernova like Mr. Green can popularize an unfamiliar new format. But Dutton is cautiously optimistic that the minis will take off during the holiday retail season, and is printing an initial run of 500,000 copies.
“I have no idea how people will respond to this,” Mr. Green said. “They’re objects that you almost can’t get until you’re touching them.”