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Random House of Canada taps into trend of books doubling as decor

It’s common now to flip or click through style, home, and design publications and see books used as everything from accent pieces to the materials for DIY decorating projects. So it makes sense that, at Random House of Canada, the company’s three paperback imprints – Anchor Canada, Vintage Canada, and Emblem Editions (the paperback division of McClelland & Stewart) – are joining together to publish the Books Are Beautiful series, a project that taps into the burgeoning interest in books as markers of personal taste and as home accessories for the style savvy.

Books Are Beautiful is a celebration of the physical book as objet d’art, says Sharon Klein, deputy director of publicity at Random House of Canada. More specifically, it’s a limited-edition reissue of 30 backlist titles from across the three imprints. Vintage Canada publisher Marion Garner says the series roster – which includes M&S authors such as Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje, and Anne Michaels alongside Kazuro Ishiguro, Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy, Peter Carey, and others – represents the “backbone” of Random House of Canada’s paperback publishing program.

Each title in the series has been given a text-only, single-colour cover treatment, with matching spines and sprayed edges. Alone, the books are bricks of solid colour. Together, they look something like a Pantone sample book.

The series is based on a similar program launched last year by Vintage U.K. in honour of its 21st anniversary. Unlike the Brits, who worked with a pencil-crayon-box colour palette, Scott Richardson, vice-president and creative director at Random House of Canada, assigned colours in an almost indiscriminate manner.

“I arbitrarily chose 30 colours that I thought if you string them together makes this wonderful effect,” he says. On a second pass, Richardson made sure his choices fit the tone and content of each novel. For example, Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time went from bright yellow to deep plummy blue – “a darker, hopefully mood[ier] colour” – to reflect the nocturnal reference in the book’s title.

On the cover, Richardson emphasized author’s name over title, highlighting the publisher’s long affiliation with the “cream of Canadian and international writing.” To maintain a unified look, he used the same typeface (Adobe Caslon) throughout, and kept cover copy at a standard length.

“It was a real challenge,” Richardson says. “Normally, every imprint has their own style and their own editorial/marketing take on how they treat things like back-cover copy.” He even ditched colophons, instead  listing all three imprint names on the spine (subtle text shading identifies a title’s originating imprint).

With the minimalist aesthetic, a retail price of $16.95 per book, and a print run of 5,000 copies for each title, Random House of Canada is clearly angling for consumers who prize bold design and collectors’ items – a market that Indigo Books & Music has also tried to capture in rebranding itself as a lifestyle boutique. Naturally, it followed that the publishing house would name Indigo the exclusive retailer of the series throughout the holiday season (the books can also be purchased through Random House of Canada’s website).

Books Are Beautiful displays at Indigo (Photos: Random House of Canada)

“Indigo is merchandising its stores now by blending products and displaying them more in an aesthetic sense,” Garner says. “We thought this would be a good match.”

“Indigo is a huge component,” agrees Klein, who has been working with the retailer on marketing the series. (Indigo would not comment on its marketing plans.) Klein has also reached out to a range of Canadian style, home, and decor publications, in addition to traditional book media. “I’m trying to get outside the box and think different,” she says. She’s even pitched the series as an ideal backdrop for the morning talk show Canada A.M.

It’s this kind of inventive thinking that Garner suggests will give paperback publishers a leg up in a competitive category. “It’s just getting harder … to bring some of those books to the front of the store if you’re not getting helped by Canada Reads, or a movie tie-in, or even … a new book in the market that’s flying off the shelves,” she says. Books Are Beautiful is a way to “reimagine and re-present backlist in a way that people haven’t seen before.”

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