Book covers have always been unabashedly about marketing — at least since the nineteenth century, when the steam-powered press and the influence of poster-artists transformed the book cover from a protective to a promotional tool.
We all judge books by their covers, whether consciously or not. And I mean that literally and metaphorically. Our clothing and accessories usually reflect, with some degree of deliberate spin, what’s on the inside. And for anyone who reads in coffee shops or on the train, book covers become part of that display.
Have you ever hidden a book inside the jacket of another book when you read it in public? Or the opposite… have you ever felt a twinge of pride when reading a serious classic on the train?
E-readers are changing this. With a Kindle, the only thing you are displaying is that you are a reader (and a bit of a gadgeteer). The amount of information being shared in physical spaces continues to decrease, replaced with sharing in virtual spaces. Here’s a quote from a recent NYTimes article:
For now, many publishers are counting on the Facebook effect. “Before, you might see three people reading ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ on the subway,” said Clare Ferraro, president of Viking and Plume, imprints of Penguin Group USA. “Now you’re going to log onto Facebook and see that three of your friends are reading ‘Eat, Pray, Love.’ ”
Book covers are not losing their importance. They are a key marketing tool in online bookstores, and they are equally important on social networks, where a friend’s book review appears next to a thumbnail of the book cover. This introduces new design challenges, but that’s nothing new for an industry that figured out how to use the spine of a book to get bookstore browsers to look at the cover.