The 'bold, brilliant, barmy' disappearing book

The 'bold, brilliant, barmy' disappearing book

This month, The Pigeonhole is launching the first ever disappearing book. Founder and publisher Anna Jean Hughes discusses how the company made it happen.


In the guileless early Pigeonhole days, when I still used to giggle at any reference to the site’s backend (who am I kidding, I still do that), we were always most excited about demonstrating the versatility and creativity of digital publishing. This is a truly dynamic space, one in which almost anything can happen. The trick is to give airtime to any idea, however mad, and then poke, bribe and bully your developer into making it happen. There’s a folder on my desktop full of the most ridiculous of these crackpot sillinesses, but the one project we were itching to get off the ground was a disappearing book.

Once the idea was in place, we had the unenviable task of finding the perfect book. Said book had to be cliffhangingly compelling, effortlessly readable and have a willing author at its helm. Not only have we found all these things in Stefan Ahnhem’s Victim Without a Face, but we have also had the chance to work with the excellent folk at Head of Zeus. Alongside their print and e-book editions, they now have a mobile-format of a novel that everyone should read. We’ll be splitting all revenue straight down middle.

Head of Zeus has long been on my radar for their originality and professional flexibility. Their attitude towards the digital landscape is properly progressive, and luckily Stefan’s editor, Laura Palmer, was happy to experiment. "The Pigeonhole’s plan for Victim Without a Face is bold, brilliant and a little bit barmy," she has said. "I love it. With a book this addictive, my only question is: do the chapters disappear fast enough?"

All we then had to do was work out how our book - which would be delivered to readers in instalments via our app and web reader - would actually disappear. That took just a simple bit of tech-magic - I say simple, though Walid, our long-suffering developer, will probably throw something at me when he reads this. The launch starts on 18th April, and we’ve offered the book for free to the first 250 subscribers. For any slowpokes to the party it’s going to cost a mere £2.29. Once signed up, readers will receive a 45-minute-long instalment every day, and that instalment will vanish 24 hours later with the arrival of the next. Not keeping up with the reading means losing the story, but Stefan’s writing is so compelling, we’re pretty sure that no one will be able to fall behind.

And if anyone does, we won’t keep them out in the cold forever. As soon as the serialisation is over, the full text, along with extra content and all comments made during the launch, will reappear on a user’s Pigeonhole ‘bookshelf’.

Victim Without a Face was first published in Sweden in 2014. Since then it has had a majestic translation treatment at the hands of Rachel Willson-Broyles. And in days it will be Pigeonholed alongside wonderful interviews and essays with Stefan, a soundtrack inspired by the book and the author himself on side to answer any questions that the reader might have.

Now is the time for true innovation in the world of digital publishing. Now is the time for a disappearing book. Do you have the time to keep up?

Anna Jean Hughes is founder and publisher of The Pigeonhole, a book club in your pocket. All titles are serialised direct to your phone, tablet or desktop, and each book comes with multi-media extras and real-time conversations between the author and readers.