Judge a Book by Its Cover? Judge an E-Book by… ?
This week an article in the NY Times went viral. Well, it spread around the publishing industry anyway, so maybe we should say it had a slight head cold?
The article speaks to some publishers adding special design effects on the covers of certain titles. The effects include elaborate embossing, special photographs, a shiny gold Rorschach, etc. Aside from creating a beautiful object, the main intent is to give consumers a reason to buy the print version. Those who love physical books will want to own this book, touch it, have it on their shelf, show it to their friends, etc. These are all experiences that e-books cannot offer.
Not to beat the comparison with the music industry to death, but… there is a similar thread here. Sometimes if you buy the CD or the vinyl (remember that?) version of an album, you get a beautifully printed booklet or a poster or elaborate packaging you can’t get with the MP3 version. It’s nicely produced stuff that you can touch. As much as I’m in favor of having content available in every way possible, this is simply an experience that can’t be replicated by an iPad… at least not now.
I’m all in favor of making beautiful books, no matter what the reason.
Of particularly interest to me was the reaction to this article by of some publishing colleagues. This is being used as proof that the printed book is not going away: “See! I told you! Those e-book people are not going to take over!” Well, the printed book is not going away. The reality that the desire for gorgeous covers speaks to is not going to change. A beautifully designed and manufactured physical book is always going to have aspects to it that an e-book won’t. We can assume that technological and design advances will be made in the presentation of e-books, but the beauty of a physical object is always going to have its allure.
Also, this really speaks to, for lack of a less obnoxious term, the buying experience of book buyers. The browsing behavior is very different. As I had written earlier, one study showed that e-book buyers tend to have a better idea of the book they want to buy when they go to the e-store. Buyers of physical books are more likely to wander the aisles of a book store, checking out things that catch their eye—and perhaps seeing a book by an author, or on a subject, that we didn’t know about.
We can debate forever whether people buy books because of the cover. I don’t think there’s much debate, however, that books/covers/jackets that have special “effects” draw people to them. Some people will want the special Stephen King cover, some people will just want to read the book on their Nook. Who cares, as long as they’re buying and reading, and our industry is giving readers what they want/need?
He is currently Production Director for Teachers College Press. Previously, he was Vice President, Global Content and Media Production for Cengage Learning. Prior to that he was Vice President of Production and Manufacturing for Oxford University Press, Pearson/Prentice Hall, Worth Publishers and HarperCollins.
In those capacities, he has been a leader in managing process and content for delivery in as many ways possible.