Do Cover Enhancements Enhance Profits?
Consumer spending on books will reach $44 billion by 2008, and publishers will be serving up a menu of more than 2.3 billion books from which readers can choose, predicts a recent study by the Book Industry Study Group, a nonprofit industry organization.
With so many titles vying for a piece of the pie, each book's cover becomes increasingly important to catch the book-buyer's eye, despite the old caveat about judging a book by its cover. But does pomp and circumstance help sell books?
Beauty Is Only Cover Deep, But It's The Cover That Buyers See
Many in the industry agree that a book's cover can instantly woo or repel, regardless of the book's content. "Anybody who doesn't believe that people judge a book by its cover is missing some basic fundamentals about human nature," says Eric Roberts, director of graphic technology for The Lehigh Press, a Pennsauken, N.J.-based provider of book components. "The judgment is often unconscious, subliminal. What we like—what we hear or see—that's on automatic pilot, but we do make judgments."
A book's cover can especially convey a lot about its value and its tone. An expensive-looking cover means a valuable book; an exciting cover an exciting book. While this concept may be nothing new to designers and production managers, in the struggle to get attention from retailers and the book-buying public, many publishers are looking to 3D, lenticular, new colored inks, foils and embossing to give their books a bit of extra curb appeal.
"What's going on [the cover] can make your book different or unique," says Rob Kobe, market development manager for API Foil Inc., a film and coating manufacturer in Lawrence, Kan. Today, says Kobe, "holographic is the hottest." "More and more holographic products work toward the theme or style of a publication, making certain, in a way, that they have a more captivating effect on the shelf." As an example, Kobe notes an ocean-related title that used holographic effects to simulate waves.
But Roberts says few new innovations are setting the world on fire. "A lot of it is augmentation of existing technologies."
The good news is that within those existing technologies and their new manifestations are a variety of choices for almost every budget. Inks, laminations, UV, all offer possibilities, says Roberts. Too, tactile book covers are making a move … either real textures through foil and embossing, or technologies that give the illusion of three dimensions. Book publishers are finding uses for all of them.
"It really depends on the end use for the book," says Joann Scherf, vice president, marketing, of ICG/Holliston, which calls itself "The Book Cover Company," in Church Hill, Tenn. ICG has been producing cloth covers for books across many industry segments for more than 100 years. "A trade book, an educational book, a juvenile [title], each has its own characteristic set of materials and looks."
IF YOU SPEND LESS, BUT THE BOOK FLOPS …
Still, skeptics wonder whether fancy book covers really sell books. Some experts say they can and do, especially in the educational market. "The market expects a premium cover," says Mitch Weiss, senior VP of sales for book component provider Coral Graphic Services Inc., Hicksville, N.Y.
"Publishers spend $40 to $50 million getting a book in print. The cover will cost 50 cents—who cares if it costs 60? If it's the difference between success and failure, who wants to save a few pennies?"
Roberts says focus groups he has conducted have shown that school texts with striking covers are those teachers keep in their hands. And a good-looking text gets students interested in the subject.
"Publishers want to sell books," says Weiss. "If they didn't need exceptional covers to sell books, you can be sure they wouldn't use them."
The trade market is another segment that demands an attractive cover for its books, says Jeffrey Burg, product manager, book component division of Visual Systems Inc. (VSI) in Milwaukee. That's why his company is doing different things with coatings and varnishes to create subtle effects. To that end, VSI has developed Verachrome, a technique that makes colors appear to change in front of a viewer's eyes.
"As you move the cover, the color will actually shift to a different color. For example, it would go from a black to a green or a blue or a purple…," Burg says. "It's just something that's going to catch the person's eye in the couple of seconds that he looks at the display."
Phoenix Color also offers a product that changes at different viewing angles. Its VibraMotion adds depth and dimensionality with flashes and "spins" that reflect light in different ways from different angles.
Yet not all the pressure to bind a book with an attractive, eye-catching cover comes from competition among publishers to produce the best-looking title. Authors, some analysts say, often are upset when publishers skimp on their covers.
THE LURE OF AN AUTHOR
A fancy cover doesn't guarantee a plum placement in a retail outlet either. One retailer says covers have almost nothing to do with which book gets display space. "It's almost always according to the author," says a spokesperson for Books of Wonder, an independent children's bookstore in New York. The more popular a title's author is, the better its placement.
Designers often push for new products that promise a flashier look, Burg says, but are often shot down by production, which may balk at the often higher cost of such products. So, "rather than provide products [publishers] can't afford, we've focused on making existing products cost-effective for use on an everyday basis," notes Burg.
ADDING FRILLS WHERE THEY COUNT
"The most important thing we have to consider is the budget," says Chip Kidd, associate art director for the Knopf Group, a New York-based publisher of fiction and nonfiction. "How many copies are we printing? Is it 100,000? 500,000? The print run determines the budget, and the budget determines what cover materials we can use."
Initial print runs often get more decorations than later runs, says Lehigh's Roberts. "What might have been foil on an early printing might be metallic ink on a reprint," he says, "just because publishers aren't looking for the same revenue from the title."
Though the popularity of various technologies tends to be cyclical, say some experts, everyone is hot to jump on the latest wave, Roberts says. "If a particular publisher has a very popular effect—[whether it's] new or a new spin on existing techniques—others want to follow."
API's Kobe says that while a lot of publishers may want to jump on a trend, he also has to provide flexibility, as many want to put their own spin on things, and to create something fresh and new.
A Hologram's Appeal
Publishers looking for 3D effects choose holograms. The holograms are applied on film, by coating or hot stamping, resulting in a relatively low yield compared to other materials. And, the cost can be prohibitive. "There's no question that if you're looking for a cheap, inexpensive solution, this isn't it," says Kobe.
But, Coral Graphic's Weiss adds that whether it's actually more expensive is a matter of perspective. Though the book may cost more to produce, if more people buy it because of its visual appeal, the cost is justified. "The allure, the physical qualities of holograms, is something that gets people to look at a book," he says.
API has a standard range of holographic offerings, including pillars of light and circular holographic effects. "But we're ready to customize if someone doesn't find something in the standard range," says Kobe. The firm has its own custom creative and design laboratory, where it can work with its clients to design holographic images. "We try to create things that appeal to [the] market the publisher is searching for. You wouldn't do a design that was high-tech or futuristic for the romance market, for example. You'd want something softer, more subtle."
WONDERFUL WORLD OF COLOR
Ink is one of the staples of publishing, but that doesn't mean that manufacturers aren't continuing to tweak it. UV inks, which dry quickly under ultraviolet light, are mixed with standard inks to create a quick-drying alternative that can use conventional plates. Hybrid inks can be high-gloss and are scuff-resistant.
"Spot UV seems to be the overwhelming choice of [our] customers," says John Carbone, executive vice president and COO of book components of Phoenix Color in Hagerstown, Md. "The use of spot coating, both gloss and matte, continues to grow. When spot gloss and UV embossing are used together, and done properly, the result can look like thermography (a process that produces raised lettering)."
Other manufacturers are busy mixing new colors to help customers move from a four- to six-color system. Often, the new colors are green and orange, although the best-selling Harry Potter series added green and purple to the standard mix of inks. Metallic colors are also not uncommon.
"We have new colors that are selling very well," says ICG's Scherf. Among other colors, Sherf says the company offers a spicy red look, silver mist, and bright reds and blues for patriotic designs.
Among the most expensive of the cover materials available are lenticular designs—where plastic lenses are placed on a plastic sheet and affixed to a cover—which trick the eye into seeing three dimensions or the illusion of motion.
"We are getting a lot more interest in lenticular," says VSI's Burg. "That's a big product that publishers are interested in looking at for some of their titles."
But despite its appeal, it still presents some design challenges. "Lenticular just hasn't come up in the books I've been designing," Knopf's Kidd says. "I did one job, a book on animation where it should have been appropriate, but we couldn't make the cost work." It's not just something a designer can plug in, Kidd says. "It's a design thing, not a technology thing. It's very easy to do lenticular badly. You tend to completely lose the graphic."
Balancing Bucks and Beauty As publishers vie for that slice of growing spending in the book market, will we soon see a boon in 3D and special effect designs? It wouldn't be too surprising.
E-books are continuing to creep up in their percentage of the marketplace, and people's time is increasingly sparse. Special effects may lure more and more publishers and designers looking to create book covers that reflect the light, change colors, glitter or even glow, to be sure to catch a buyer's eye in the fray.
Jerry Lazar is a writer, editor, playwright and author in Tenafly, N.J. He has written for several business and technology publications in North America.
COMPANIES FEATURED IN THIS ARTICLE
The Lehigh Press
Visual Systems Inc.