Yesterday, The New York Times ran a story about book covers and e-books.
I know we’ve all heard that you can’t judge a book by its cover, but covers do matter.
I’ve judged more than a few books by their covers in my time (found my favorite book that way), and in almost every case the art director and cover artist tapped into the heart of the book better than the jacket copy.
Images are powerful things.
The New York Times article discusses something we lose with e-books: if everybody is reading e-books on the subway or in other public places, we don’t see the covers. Publishers lose out on free advertising, and conversations about books slide a little.
There’s no doubt that moving toward e-books comes with some huge changes to how publishers will do things. One of the biggest changes I’ve thought about, even before a good friend sent me the link to this article, is how e-books will affect cover artists.
I started out writing independent comic books. More than working in a scripting format I liked, I loved working with artists. I met one of the nicest people and best artists I know through those early days of independent comic books.
I rarely read genre fiction, but I will eventually read the book below based solely on the cover.
Covers matter to me.
The couple times I’ve bought an e-book that didn’t have the cover image from the book, I’ve felt a little ripped off. Even on my iPhone screen, I want to see cover art. The weak graphics for the Kindle are one of the reasons I never bought one. Call me shallow, but I like seeing color covers. (Fortunately, the iPad and what follows will support large, full-cover colors.)
While good artists will always find work, it is unfortunate that the work of Chip Kidd, John Picacio, and other artists and designers won’t leap out like they do when people hold physical books in their hands.
Cynthia Griffith says
Oh wow, I hadn’t thought of that. Mostly from the thought of “free advertising” as you mentioned. While there are times I like the concept of no one knowing what I’m reading, I can see how it would be a shame not to be able to look at the cover of the book someone is reading near you and maybe even asking them about it or discussing it (then again, maybe they don’t want to be bothered at all, but you still might think “oooh, that looks interesting — maybe I should get a copy”).
I haven’t read enough eBooks yet to even realize some of them are without cover graphics. I must admit, I think they should all have them, too. As far as purchasing online — as long as there is a cover graphic with it, I would still find that very helpful.
But what a shame that once it’s on the eBook reader, no one will see it but you. I do wonder how much of that free advertising has really helped. For me, I think there is a difference with seeing a book on a shelf screaming “buy me!” and actually seeing someone reading the book. I do like being able to get a little more reassurance to try something I’m not sure of, like asking the reader about the book and (if they know me) if it’s something I might like, too.
Very interesting point I hadn’t thought of until just now. What a shame.
Christopher Gronlund says
I hadn’t thought about the free advertising aspect of books, either. Maybe since I tend to read at home, not on a bus, at the beach, or in a cafe.
But I can see how somebody seeing a book cover in public that grabs their attention might want to look it up online, or even say, “Is that good?” if they see somebody reading a book they’ve considered buying.
Books matter on shelves, too.
Recently on Twitter, Ed Brubaker posted this on his Twitter account: http://twitter.com/brubaker/status/11219612454
He makes a great point that even in the home, you’re not going to browse somebody’s Kindle. Bookcases matter. When I’m around somebody’s books, I always love seeing what they read.
Bookstores…I love wandering bookstores and finding books I never knew existed. I discovered Robert Olmstead, Anne Ursu, and other writers that way.
The experience of browsing online isn’t the same.
When I’ve thought about e-books and artists, I’ve thought about it more from the point of view of having friends who illustrate covers and how it will affect them.
I’ve thought, “That sucks…” when I’ve bought an e-book and there’s no cover image.
Even with e-books, covers will matter. Like you mentioned, Cynthia–we still look at covers online when shopping for books and e-books.
This article made me think about it a lot more, and made me consider things I never thought of.
I’m glad Larry sent it my way this morning 🙂
Cynthia Griffith says
I used to be a big “own a lot of books and put them on bookshelves” person, but with my allergies/hatred of dust and preferring not having a lot of stuff out, they tend to just drive me nuts now that I’d rather just not have clutter everywhere. I do have some of my favorite books (like some Sherlock Holmes collections and a few other nice hardbacks), but honestly I prefer the fact that you can now store a lot of things on one or two little electronic devices and that’s that. If it weren’t for the fact that there are things I don’t want to get rid of for nostalgic reasons, I seriously would have very few things sitting around and that includes books and magazines.
My only fear of having everything stored on electronic devices like music, movies, books, etc is that I don’t trust paying for something and wondering if I’ll lose it (no matter how careful I am about trying to make sure I have backups — especially with some of the copy protection issues from some places).
Christopher Gronlund says
Right, for things like magazines especially, I think the iPad and what will follow will be great. I eventually recycle magazines, so they aren’t something I keep. It makes sense for somebody like me to have a good device for magazines since I don’t feel an attachment to them.
As far as books…the e-books I’ve read tend to be books I’d normally give away, so I don’t mind a future where they aren’t there because they won’t be there anyway.
But there are books that I definitely want to have in a physical form. Like you, I know there will be a day when formats change, or something like that, and all the e-books I have may become obsolete.
That’s the nicest thing about an actual book…if they are cared for, they will last. They aren’t going to become unreadable because new formats have come along.
There are a couple e-books I’ve read (John Irving’s Last Night in Twisted River and Jeffrey Ford’s The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque* come to mind), that I will buy as an actual book.
Right now, though, space is limited, so e-books are nice because they reduce clutter.
* I HATE that I can’t loan people The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque. It’s such a cool book!
And yeah, some books, ya just gotta have live and in person.