Home » Covers, Ebook/Ereader Technical » Has Kindle Killed the Book Cover?

Has Kindle Killed the Book Cover?

17 April 2012

From the Atlantic:

Daylight Saving came out in the U.K. in February, and in the months leading up to its release, the publisher used a novel strategy to generate interest in the teen novel: It placed a ticker at the bottom of the digital cover, counting down to the launch date. (It’s still counting, now into a negative number.) In addition to the digital jacket’s embedded clock, an underwater design ripples with the drag of a cursor, as if your finger could make waves through the screen. The interactive blue splashes (gimmicky, maybe) are nonetheless entrancing for the few minutes spent toying with the cover. And with that, the book has caught the eye of a potential buyer. Once purchased, of course, the water transforms into a static image, its graceful motion unsupported by the media formats in which it is ultimately consumed (print or the standard digital forms). The cover is seductive, but its spell is broken. Which brings to mind the tagline of Daylight Saving: “Can you save someone from something that’s already happened?”

That question comes to bear on the book publishing industry. Digital reading is already happening, but electronic books have only barely begun to adapt to current habits and devices—not to mention forge new standards for either. The various constraints—technological, financial, and cultural—allow hardly any clarity in seeing what books will be, or how they will be. Especially if we are to judge them by their covers.

. . . .

The digital book can be a complete piece of art, Goldberg explained, though “we’re doing it by the seat of our pants. There is no technology that is uniform yet.” And publishers haven’t embraced it, she says, because “they don’t have resources.”

“I don’t think anybody’s figured out how to create a whole creative environment that’s able to fit well into every publishing house right now,” Goldberg told me, adding, “I’m sure there are companies that are talking about it all the time. But I haven’t seen anybody go about it.”

. . . .

With or without digital frills, the cover sensibility is fetching simplicity. A winning formula tends to involve bold text and pared down illustrations. Says Buckley, “We need to broadcast ourselves clearly.”

Legible means, literally, capable of being read. For Buckley and other like-minded designers, there is elegance in legibility: The cover can be deciphered by the human eye, from a distance or on a small screen. But it’s not only our eyes that must do the reading. So too, computers read our books, with varying degrees of success. So says Holladay Penick—Creative Director at OnixSuite, and formerly of the Institute for the Future of the Book—in noting that “legibility is a big concern.”

. . . .

The early ebooks tossed readers right into the text, without ceremony. This is still true in many cases. On a standard Kindle, for example, you can buy a book and pop right over to the first page of the introduction. There is no procession through the cover, title page, and so on. To see the cover at all, you have to manually click backwards, perhaps more than two dozen times.

“I’m not sure they should be called ‘covers,’” says Bill McCoy, the director of International Digital Publishing Forum, which oversees the EPUB system. Rather, “It’s really more an introduction to the experience you’re going to have in consuming this content.” For McCoy, this is comparable to an entrée into a video game or DVD main menu page. If a movie were to just start playing, the viewer’s impulse would be, “What’s wrong, what’s going on here?” he explains, “You expect to get some choices and a menu of options.” Whereas the movie business has been sorting this out for the past 15 years, “We’re just in year one of that for digital books.”

. . . .

Cover testing—commonly used for magazines—could just as easily be applied to books, and “data analytics-driven optimization is going to have to be something designers are going to have to deal with.” Create 20 covers and watch which one sells the best. Or create a monitored ad campaign to determine which branding strategy works for a given title.

“Books ought to have multiple covers and multiple flaps,” says Seth Godin, a marketing expert and founder of the direct publishing website, The Domino Project. Readers should be able to set preferences on their ebooks to show different covers depending on what they’re looking for, he explained. This might include, among other things, how many people tweet about the book.

Link to the rest at the Atlantic

Passive Guy admits he prefers ebooks that open to Chapter 1, page 1, rather than someplace earlier in a stylistic reference to a physical book.

He hasn’t tried it with Amazon or Pubit yet, but PG thinks of book covers as billboards there, something different than a traditional book cover. From a practical standpoint, however, you need a cover for a POD paperback and PG has also not tried different covers for the ebook and POD versions of the same book to see how Amazon reacts yet.

Covers, Ebook/Ereader Technical

37 Comments to “Has Kindle Killed the Book Cover?”

  1. I only very recently moved into the “iTHingy” world, with the acquistion of an iPod Touch (no, I don’t WANT a phone thing. I have a perfectly good phone.) Prior to that my ebooks were read first on on old Dell PDA (using Mobipocket), then on a Kindle (one cup of spilled coffee and I completely demolished the Kindle). Let me just say, I never really liked the Kindle and it’s “open to page 1″ feature. I only accidently discovered you could page back to see the front matter. I LIKE front matter. I like looking at the cover and title pages, and reading dedications. Reading on the Kindle alway seemed a bit brusque to me.

    First thing I downloaded to my iThingy were the apps for Kindle, Nook, and iBooks. I must say, so far I like the iBook app best (of course, being “native” it’s the most fully featured on this device). I like the colorful bookshelf rather than just the arid listing of books on the Kindle. I’m enamored of the “page flipping” (did you know, if you flip the page slowly, you can “see through” the half turned page and actually see the words on the other side? Yes, I’m easily charmed by glitzy little things like that.)

    I suppose I’m something of an endangered species, liking paper books as I do, so for me, the iBook is the best hybrid of paper and techonology for me. I can see the pages turn, and front matter still matters.

    • The edit function is apparently not working and threw up all over my screen. Thus, I was unable to change that erroneous “it’s” to the proper “its”. Oh, the trauma to an obsessive grammar person. Le sigh.

    • My reading so far is with the app on a desktop or laptop. Like you, I only discovered the covers by accident. I would like to see the covers first too, but only if there are no more than a couple of pages of front matter. One book I read had about 20 pages of testimonials, and I found it annoying (what good do they do once I’ve already bought the book?)

    • I concur wholeheartedly. My greatest aesthetic objection to the Kindle (which I otherwise love) is the “Page 1″ routine and the apparent deprecation of covers. I’d love (even if it rendered more slowly) an eInk list of books in a category by cover, or having the cover of the currently open book be the default screen saver, or even just starting a new book _with the cover_. Short of that makes a book feel simply like yet another collection of text, all formatted with the same system font.

      • My Kobo reader often uses the cover as a screen saver, plus has the cover thumbnails of the books in my library. :)

        That said, I would LOVE more organizational ability! Please can’t I sort my digital reading material?

        • Yeah, the Kindle app is sorely lacking organizationally too. I don’t know about the device itself, but I doubt it’s any better. Why can’t I sort all the books I’ve already read to the bottom? The only way to get them out of the way is to remove them. I can put the books in categories, but there is no way to see all the uncategorized books. There are some sorting options, but they don’t seem to work right – the books are always randomly rearranging themselves on me.

          • You echo some of my big complaints about the Kindle app and the Kindle device, R.E.

          • I agree about the lack of organization options in the Kindle app. I can’t figure out how to even create categories. I like having categories on my Kindle device–at least on my eInk Kindle, they work well (I’ve heard bad things about organization on the Fire)–but automatically sorting finished books to the end of the collection, or the ability to organize the collections, or collections within the collections, would all make things a lot easier…

            You can at least see everything that’s not in a collection, though you have to page past all the collections, on a Kindle device.

          • I agree wholeheartedly that the Kindle device (I never use the app on anything) sucks mightily when it comes to organization. While categories are a huge step in the right direction, they are painful to create and to add books to (and then, if something happens to require a replacement device, you have to go through the process all over all over again).

            I’d dearly love a Kindle app for Windows that had the same sort of power as Calibre, but was really specially designed for use with a Kindle. (I use Calibre, but there are places where it suffers a bit for being hardware-agnostic.)

    • See if Stanza works on your iPhingie… (I tend to download every free e-reader I can find and test ‘em out.) It has much better organizational ability than virtually any other e-reader app, and the appearance tends to be very customizable. Prefer indents? Select the indentedness. Prefer spaces between paragraphs? Pick that; you can adjust how big they are, too. Prefer both? You can have it!

      They don’t have a sort for read/unread — but I put my read books in a Group. And if you leave them on the last page, the little circle next to the titles will be solid, as opposed to an empty or part-filled one.

      (I feel that Amazon is totally evil in one specific way: they bought out Stanza (when it was the most popular e-reader app on the App Store), have been offering only half-hearted “support” for it, and have imported none of its organizational abilities to the Kindle app — let alone the customization of how you view the text! I mean, if you’re gonna take over an app, at least pillage it for the good parts for your own, y’know?? You should all be angry, too, that you don’t have the cool sorting abilities of Stanza in the Kindle/Kindle app, even though Amazon owns it.)

  2. Last year I worked with an artist at Punkuation Piktures for weeks on the covers of The Handover Mysteries, trying to agree on “e-book” covers—stark, sinister, and bold—good for thumbnail. In the case of one volume, we were replacing an old Carroll & Graf cover, (clunky, busy and inappropriately nostalgic in tone.)
    Imagine my shock when three Cambridge U. kids visiting us pulled out their e-readers and commented that they couldn’t care less about “covers.” Never looked at them, and didn’t buy according to them.

    These are the readers of the future? And their message was: Forget Covers.

    This was so contrary to received wisdom (I’m a veteran of the legacy world in New York and London) and the “new” received wisdom that we need “net-friendly covers” that I sped up the publishing of my backlist with fewer sleepless nights over covers.

    This is the first post I’ve seen over months of scanning e-book discussions that raises the possibility, “The Emperor Has No Covers.”

    Love your blog.

    • I have to say that I don’t really look at covers any more since I got an ereader… but when I take a bunch of ‘real’ books to my church group to loan to the ladies, they all pick what to read based on the cover.

      The cover might die, but it is a long way off.

  3. I worked with an artist at Punkuation Piktures for weeks on the covers of The Handover Mysteries, trying to find something that was an “e-book” cover—stark, sinister, good for thumbnail. In the case of one volume, it was replacing an old Carroll & Graf cover, (clunky, busy and inappropriately nostalgic in tone.)
    Imagine my shock when three Cambridge U. kids visiting us this last summer pulled out their e-readers and commented that they couldn’t care less about “covers.” Never looked at them, and didn’t buy according to them.

    These are the readers of the future? And their message was: Forget Covers.

    This was so contrary to received wisdom (I’m a veteran of the legacy world in New York and London) and the “new” received wisdom that we need “net-friendly covers” that I sped up the publishing of my backlist with fewer sleepless nights over covers.

    This is the first post I’ve seen over months of scanning e-book discussions that raises the possibility, “The Emperor Has No Covers.”

    Love your blog.

    • I think e-book covers are important, but only to entice people to look at your book; unlike a paper book, where you see the cover every time you pick it up, you rarely see an e-book cover after you buy it. I also find a lot of book-style e-book covers are unreadable in thumbnail format so they fail at their primary purpose in the digital world.

      • This is it exactly. With a paper book the cover serves other purposes in addition to helping to sell your book. For example I didn’t realize until I converted to ebooks how much I used the cover as a means of remembering which books I had read or as a reminder at the start of a reading session of what my current book was. Often I couldn’t have told you what the title was or who the author was, but I would recognize the cover.

        But there are too many stories about authors who change their cover and nothing else and suddenly start selling more. The right cover will draw the right targets to explore the book further. The wrong cover will turn many of them away before they get that far. While many people claim covers make no difference to them and, once they get to the point of reading the blurb and possibly a sample they may be telling the truth, I find it hard to believe that given several books on the screen in the “also boughts” or some other group of books that a potential reader isn’t more likely to pick the book with the professional looking cover over one that look amateur or, even worse, the generic cover.

    • “Imagine my shock when three Cambridge U. kids visiting us this last summer pulled out their e-readers and commented that they couldn’t care less about “covers.” Never looked at them, and didn’t buy according to them.”

      Statistically speaking 3 college students not caring about covers means absolutely zero.

      Keep in mind that readers don’t approach anything universally. Some people don’t care about covers. Some do. Having a nice cover won’t mean anything to people who don’t care. But it will attract lots of other people who like covers.

  4. “The early ebooks tossed readers right into the text, without ceremony. This is still true in many cases. On a standard Kindle, for example, you can buy a book and pop right over to the first page of the introduction. There is no procession through the cover, title page, and so on. To see the cover at all, you have to manually click backwards, perhaps more than two dozen times.”

    So I have to read all that BS they put in the front of most books (ToC, Cover, Dedication, Introduction, Character Sheets, etc.) to get to the story and that’s supposed to be a good thing? My books on Amazon start on chapter 1. No messing around. I serve story – quick, hot, sexy and FAST. As a reader, that’s my concern; as a writer, it’s my duty.

    (Just in case you were wondering, the title comes at there end in my ‘Thank you for reading. Now buy this.’ message.)

  5. For narrative fiction, this makes sense.

    For nonfiction, I want a linked table of contents that I can scan and use to hop around inside the material. I also want that in my sample that I download. If the sample doesn’t have some kind of overview like this, I am much, much less likely to buy the book because I don’t know what I am getting.

  6. Having more than one cover is an intriguing idea. I don’t know if Amazon and others would allow that (if not, someone should suggest it). Imagine being able to put up two covers and have them randomly chosen for display to each visitor, and see which one sells more.

  7. [...] happen (given Amazon's advert policy), but it'd still be nice. #ddtbEmbedded Link Has Kindle Killed the Book Cover? | The Passive Voice From the Atlantic: Daylight Saving came out in the U.K. in February, and in the months leading up [...]

  8. Starting with the cover is ok, but then I’ve disabled covers in the book list of my reader.

    The TOC and a (small!) copyright notice is also ok, as is restating the name of the book and the author.

    Much worse things are in no particular order:
    - the blurb for the book, in the book
    - testimonials, multiple pages thereof
    - long winded copyright and license statements (Hello Smashwords, Black Library, and several others)
    - prefaces which spoil the plot. (Some prefaces are necessary or even evolved into a tradition.)
    - Excerpts and advertising for other books, in the beginning.

    What also s*cks: Including a very detailed map, in a tiny resolution. Geee, if you include a map make it readable. Most readers have a zoom function after all.

    • I like short front matter, as well, which is why I put as much in the back of my ebooks as possible including the main copyright. Smashwords annoys me in how they require a copyright at the front. I can’t even call my longer copyright at the back a “copyright” or their vetters kick it back. Grrr.

      However, I do quibble on one part:

      As short blurb on the title page. By short, I mean 1-2 short paragraphs only, preferably one (and in some cases only a one-sentence description).

      As a reader: I download samples. I also promptly forget what they were about. A short blurb on the title page helps me remember what I liked about it and if it matches my mood at the time, it increases the chance I’ll read that sample.

      As a writer, once I realized how much I liked this as a reader, I added one myself. Just for the people who sample. My sales went up not soon after. I don’t know if that was chance or not, but I’ve continued doing it. I figure it can’t hurt to help remind people who have downloaded hundreds of samples what my book is about.

      • That’s a good point about the blurb. I’ve run into that lack of context too. I wish I could keep notes on why I picked a book – often it was a recommendation on a blog or something like that outside of Amazon. By the time I get to the book I don’t remember any of this.

        • Sample management is definitely an issue. I wish we could do more with groups and folders. (Then you could have a “samples” folder, and then have genre groups within that.)

          I’m thinking of going back to bookmarks on the computer, rather than taking samples. It is really wonderful to be able to just grab a sample for later any time a book piques your interest, but library management is not so good.

          Another alternative…. Backing up the Kind to the desktop and organizing it there — keeping less stuff on the Kindle at any particular time. (Might run faster too.) Still, I LIKE having everything at my fingertips.

      • If you have to have them short blurbs are also ok.
        I mostly notice the long winded ones where you skip two pages and are still in it.

        In the end it is a about keeping the distance the reader has to cover in order to get to the book short. Automatically skipping the Cover or several pages does not really help.
        Thinking about what would actually fit on the back cover of a dead tree book may. ;)

  9. Covers are a fine “extra” within the book — and I greatly believe art can make a branding difference out there in the world. Art on your website, art associated with you or your book. (Logos, illustrations.)

    But within the book? Not really.

    The thing that makes book covers important in terms of selling the book (as opposed to branding) is that it looks nice on browsing pages. It’s clear, it (if possible) indicates feel or genre. It’s… a product image.

    The title is more important, imho. If the cover can enhance the title (adding a little more interpretation to feel and genre) that’s great.

    However, outside of the transactional area, a cover has a whole different importance. Just one example — there are a lot of people collect covers. That is, they collect books for their covers. Some specialize in certain authors or artists or genres or periods. And some collect them virtually — there are some great sites out there with huge libraries of old book covers. Very popular for browsing.

    This sort of thing isn’t a part of the purchase transaction of the book. It is a part of the brand, however.

  10. “For McCoy, this is comparable to an entrée into a video game or DVD main menu page. If a movie were to just start playing, the viewer’s impulse would be, “What’s wrong, what’s going on here?””
    Not mine. I would breathe a sigh of relief and settle down to watch my movie. If it goes to a menu with options and extras at the end, so much the better (and of course it should be easy to get to that menu when you’re watching the movie, to change the language or add subtitles). I also much prefer that Kindle books start at the beginning of the story, rather than the cover.

    The article also gets wrong the option to look back at the cover. You don’t have to page back dozens of times, at least not on a Kindle; you just go to the menu, select “go to,” and choose “cover.” Or “table of contents” or whatever it is that you want.

    There are some good ideas for formatting ebooks in this thread–I like Barry Z’s about reiterating the title at the end (surely that will help the reader remember it, for people who aren’t obsessive like me about recording everything at Goodreads), and J. A. Marlow’s about having a small blurb at the beginning is interesting. I love the comments on this blog.

    • My first The Lion King II DVD had virtually no front-matter. No ads you have to sit through, nothing! It just jumped to the menu screen immediately. This is what I imprinted on. I despise ads I can’t jump over on DVDs, and often will not purchase them. (I look more favorably at iTunes, where I don’t think this tendency has take root…)

      And I had something else I was going to say, and kidstraction drove it riiiight out of my head. Along with closing my Bold tags. Yay for the edit function!

    • I keep meaning to do the “logline” in the front matter thing, but I never get around to it. It is a fabulous idea.

    • Yes, this! Those stupid little movies and clips that slow you down and force you to wait before you can even get to the menu are annoying. Not to mention some very poor DVD menu designers make it very difficult to determine what item is selected or the on/off status of features. DVD menus would be a horrible thing to emulate in ebooks.

      I do wish kindle books would include the blurb in the frontmatter or somewhere that I could access it without having to be online. I buy way in advance of what I read and often when selecting what to read next I find things on my kindle which I can’t readily identify.

  11. “From a practical standpoint, however, you need a cover for a POD paperback and PG has also not tried different covers for the ebook and POD versions of the same book to see how Amazon reacts yet.”
    Yes, a POD cover and e-book covers serve different purposes. A paper book cover is really packaging, it wraps around contains the contents of the product. The ebook cover serves a somewhat different purpose.
    A person who buys a box of detergent or cereal and likes it looks for the same box again. But a book cover is something like a human face; it identifies a certain individual. The customer rarely wants to buy the same book again.
    If publishers give the same book different covers, it can lead to confusion, some people will unwittingly buy the same book twice. However, mass market paperbacks still sometimes get quite different covers from the original dust jacket designs. So giving the same title different covers could possibly work, but I think the ensuing confusion would outweigh any benefits.

    • There is some value to split-testing covers – but that is easier done with the same format, same vendor than by doing it with different vendors.

      1.) The issue Michael points out is dealt with – Amazon won’t let you buy an ebook twice. (Although if you bought it from someone else, you might be fooled into buying it from Amazon.)

      2.) Doing a split-test means you need to try out different covers or pitches on the same audience (or as similar an audience as possible).

      However, it is entirely possible that the audience for pod has different tastes than for ebook (just as UK audiences may respond to a title or cover style differently from a US audience).

      And in that case, if one cover is ONLY available in paper, and one ONLY in ebook…. that would cut down on the number of people accidentally buying it twice too.

  12. “From a practical standpoint, however, you need a cover for a POD paperback and PG has also not tried different covers for the ebook and POD versions of the same book to see how Amazon reacts yet.”

    “If publishers give the same book different covers, it can lead to confusion.”

    eBook covers ought to be different from print book covers for many (not all) books. This is easily accomplished by simply adapting the print book cover including the color palette, graphics, typography and any other “branding” elements so the books are unarguably the same book. Very few publishers are doing this, probably for cost reasons, but there’s no real reason that self-publishers can’t do it.

    For an example, check out these two covers for my recent book, “A Self-Publisher’s Companion.”

    http://ow.ly/alGk9

  13. WRT jumping directly to “chapter 1″: Have they fixed the prologue issue yet? I had a friend who was a very early adopter of kindle who never realized certain books had prologues until I referenced them because of that.

    My personal preference would be to put all front matter to the back and go cover, table of contens (if and only if it’s pertinent, which in fiction it is usually not), story (however the beginning is designated, whether prologue or chapter 1). the same way movies have all the credits and acknowledgments at the back. there for those who are interested, and those who aren’t don’t have to suffer through it. But that isn’t quite standard adoption yet, alas.

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