Your thoughts on book covers—

This is a question for all of the readers out there (and by readers I am including writers, aspiring writers, and publishing professionals, ’cause we all know who the main book buyers are).

I read this article/essay: http://craigmod.com/journal/hack_the_cover/

What do you think? Are covers dead?

I was hoping for a comment section on the site, but no such luck. Instead, I’m turning to this li’l ol’ blog to voice my opinion.

Amazon is data rich, but as a book browser Amazon gives me headaches. It’s ugly, inelegant, and has an incessant need to focus on things I’ve looked for in the past. Amazon’s best feature, as far as I’m concerned as a reader, is its prices (as someone on the writer/editor/publishing end of things, I also understand that there is great controversy with Amazon’s pricing formats. You may also have heard about a lawsuit?)

So, essentially Amazon=cheap. The site has customer reviews, which is nice. And it does try to tell you about stuff you might like, which is nice (kind of). But it’s missing any sort of “cover,” which, I believe, is one of Craig Mod’s main considerations (coupled with the general coverless-ness of ereaders) in his declaration that the cover is dead.

As far as I’m aware, readers don’t always choose their books by browsing through Amazon’s website, even if they prefer reading in digital format. They often get recommendations from friends, or Goodreads, and many also participate in “showrooming” (going to bookstores, browsing, and returning home to complete their purchases). Why? Because the Amazon experience is not overly user-friendly unless you know exactly what you’re looking for, and that’s not how a lot of people choose books. Many readers are looking for something they haven’t encountered before.

When you don’t know what you want to read, you need a starting point. Covers are marketing tools, and as such I don’t believe they’re dead. Humans are visual creatures, and how something looks does make a difference. It isn’t the only factor, or even, ultimately, the most important one, but aesthetic often provides the initial attraction. The cover is the reader’s first point of contact with the material.

Ideally, a book cover represents the text in an eye-catching way. For some covers, it is the author name that stands out (such as “Stephen King”), and for these books Amazon is great. There really is no reason to have a cover when the audience is looking for a work by a particular author (except, of course, to garner new readership).

Catchy titles are similar in that you don’t necessarily need pictures to be intrigued by them. “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” stands out to anyone who has ever heard the name Jane Austen, but covers are still important for these books. A clever title can only stand out if it’s placed among a throng of boring ones. If the reader doesn’t have an opportunity to see the title, he or she will never be drawn in by its cleverness. On a site like Amazon, the audience for a book is limited to people who find it via a keyword (or similar) search. Would you think of looking for “Pride and Prejudice” or “zombies” to find your next read?

Sought after authors still do well in a no-cover world, and books with catchy titles have half a chance. What about other books? In an age where attention spans are limited, choices are vast, and people only have time to offer a quick glance before making a judgment call, covers remain an important vehicle for getting the message out. They are a split-second representation of the book, designed to make readers stop and take notice.

Amazon may actually have issues if its low prices put the competition out of business. If readers are unable to browse in bricks-and-mortar stores for their next read, Amazon will have to find new ways of offering this experience to them—either virtually, or by funding stores itself. If that doesn’t happen, readers may turn to libraries to browse for new reads. And if you can rent a book for free, why would you pay even Amazon’s rock-bottom prices?

It should be noted, though, that in this digital age a number of clear runaway hits have snuck up on us, the most recent being the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy. I haven’t read the books, but reviews suggest the writing is mediocre at best. Why, then, are they so popular (besides the erotica and a clever marketing campaign)? In a global arena where there are many choices, the fact that a large number of people are reading the books and talking about the books means that the books have more market share than they probably should. If “jumping on board” is the new way of choosing what book to read, then Craig Mod could be right. Herd mentality does not require covers.

What’s your opinion? Is the cover dead?

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3 thoughts on “Your thoughts on book covers—

  1. I don’t think the cover is dead at all. I glance through the top 100 and the new releases all the time. There are tons of them. I only stop to look if the cover interests me. I don’t have time to read the “blurb” for every novel. I want to read NOW. The best cover will draw my eye, and then I will read the blurb and possiblt buy.

  2. I LOVE a good cover…representative, belonging, indicative, suggestive…promising. The invitation and then the nostalgic symbol – my opinion and personal feelings 🙂

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