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Book Cover Art in an e-World

I am fascinated by the art, craft and science of book covers. I have some thoughts and ideas at the end of this post too about this changing world.

Read these postings to learn more about this process of choosing and designing book covers:

Pick Me Up! Pick Me Up! Pick Me Up!”
by JL Bell

On Covers
James Bridle

Nancy Werlin: The Anatomy of a Book Cover
by Elizabeth Bluemle

The Season of Windblown Hair — Or, the Zeitgeist of Book Covers
by Elizabeth Bluemle

Anyway, besides being interesting as art forms and having commercial roles, there’s some good points in here for libraries.

1. We have mostly been adding cover art to our electronic catalogues (OPAC) experiences. It is an important part of the selection experience. You can use the Syndetics feed or use the Amazon API. I think Bibliocommons and LibraryThing for Libraries offer options too. I think it is a feature that should not be underestimated and those libraries that neglect this aspect are offering an experience that underdelivers.

2. “Werlin says: “I used to want covers that represented the book’s contents very closely, and were also pretty. Many folks automatically believe that this is what makes a good cover. But I’ve changed my mind about this. While the cover should not lie (by implication or outright), its job is simply to say: “Pick me up!” to someone who might like the book. That is all. And you have more moving parts than the art: you also have the title and author’s name.”

So, do libraries devote enough to display? Can browsers see beyond the spine to the covers? Do our book collections scream “pick me up!” I know Paco Underhill, Borders, B&N and some libraries have invested time in the research about what parts of our collections circulate better when the covers show. Can you rhyme off which one’s (by Dewey range or genre) those would be easily? What are your branch strategies for great display? A few libraries offer online shelf browsing by cover in the OPAC and that’s cool.

I seem to recall that kids’ books, hobbies and fiction benefit from facing out and that mysteries, reference, and teen series not so much. Boksellers follow this research in the design of their retail stores. Libraries can learn from this although they rarely need to promote bestsellers unless they want to be in the Walmart-style raincheck (library holds) business.

3. I think that the idea or metaphor to album art is apt. I remember when drinking in an LP’s cover was an experience that lasted. Looking for secret messages in the cover of Seargeatn Pepper and checking out the creative team that contributed was part of the listening experience. Now I see CD covers sometimes and there isn’t always an insert with more to read or lyrics. I miss that. Lately, and too often, I just quickly rip the CD to my MP3 player and never touch the packaging again. Indeed I just put hundreds of jewel cases into storage!) I suppose I am missing something or am I being nostalgic? My daughter has done the photography for a few CD releases. The art is so small! Anyway, when I download the song (usually) or album (sometimes) on iTunes I only see the cover art fleetingly. And that’s sad (for the artist and the photographer / designer).

4. “James Bridle pointed out another common-sense fact about book covers: they’ll become less and less visible as more people use digital readers. We won’t be able to see what everyone else is reading on the subway, just as we can’t tell what people with earbuds are listening to (unless they’re destroying their hearing as well). Book covers will be less like LP covers, once the objects of fascinated study, and more like logos designed to link several products together.”

It’s a point I hadn’t considered. I often ask the question, “What aren’t I seeing lately.” And it’s true. I don’t see as many book covers on the subway and buses and planes as people read more e-books. (Similarly I can’t hear what people are listening to on their earbuds like I used to hear radio and transister radios.)

I’d add that most e-readers are tones of B&W. Covers are degraded to a plainness that is sad. I suppose that’ll improve with more colour e-readers (on phones and on iPads) but for now it’s quute a but uglier (and often smaller) than colour covers. And rarely do they include the back cover or fly-leaf information! In the short term I hope publishers start to imagine the covers for downloaded books differently than for hardcover or paperbacks – just the way design changed in the transition from LP to CD to MP3…

The old aphorism is “Don’t judge a book by its cover”. I think that this is quite simplistic. It’s part of the experience whether it’s a leatheribound vellum hardcover or a pulp paperback or a Kindle download. How will covers change? In the print world we have covers with foil type and inlays, holograms, and varnish. It all makes for an interesting art form.

In the future will e-book covers include video author interviews in the fly leaf? Can we expect moving images on the cover? Will colour choices change as a new palette of choices illumnated on the reading devices emerges as an inexpensive option? Will a new era of black & white art emerge like the early days of woodcuts and publishing?

Someday, just for fun treat your library, music or bookstore (or even your OPAC or Amazon) like an art gallery and just look at the covers as pieces of art. It’s free and a great experience. Drink in the beauty.

I wonder. What will scream “Read Me! Read Me!” in the e-book world?


Posted on: August 7, 2010, 12:40 pm Category: Uncategorized

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