Saturday, December 5, 2015

How E-Reading Dethroned the Book Cover

Is the book's most powerful marketing tool at risk of being lost?  ♦ 
In the early 1820s, illustrated book jackets only presented basic publishing information and were merely used as a temporary protective wrapping that consumers could discard after the purchase. According to The Guardian, it wasn’t till the 1920s, commonly known as the golden age of book jackets, that the industry began to utilize the front cover as an advertising tool. Ever since, though, publishers’ marketing and design departments have been responsible for putting together striking and visually appealing cover art because, even though we’ve all been taught not to judge a book by its cover, most of us do just that; in fact, statistics show that the majority of consumers choose books based on the cover. Because of this, publishers focus on creating book covers designed with specific fonts, colors, and images to both attract potential readers and reflect a book’s content.
   In print publishing, illustrators face the challenge of creating an eye-catching book design that’s distinguishable amongst a variety of similar texts. Large bookstores such as Barnes & Noble have aisles organized by genre and only a few display tables for popular reads. If a book doesn’t have the luxury of sitting on one of these easily noticeable tables, its cover design is usually left fighting for the consumer’s attention while direct competitors are fighting right back.
   So what does this mean for the marketing of e-books? With an increased trend toward online reading, illustrators are struggling even more to create a distinctive design. Online retailers such as Amazon display multiple book covers on the screen at one time, shrinking images down to the size of the average stamp. As a result, cover art becomes barely recognizable. Unless a customer is already planning to purchase the book, it’s unlikely that he or she will be drawn to the microscopic cover image and actually click on the link to see the book up close.
   Instead of casually browsing for other literatures as print consumers might, online consumers are only purchasing books that they had planned to buy before entering the store. According to Forbes, only 3 percent of Amazon book sales come from consumers browsing categories, but a large 48 percent of sales are planned purchases in which a certain author or title is searched.
   Since consumers no longer have the leisure of browsing bookshelves for random reads, they are only committing to buying books based off of the opinion of mainstream society or personal recommendations. That same Forbes article mentions that 17 percent of Amazon book choices are influenced by bestsellers and top 100 lists, and 22 percent of book sales are suggestions from friends or family through email, phone, or social networks.
   There’s also an obvious tactile loss when replacing traditional book covers with virtual ones. Graphic designer Chip Kidd explains that, even though e-books offer convenience and portability, we are inevitably losing “tradition, a sensual experience, the comfort of thingy-ness, [and] a little bit of humanity.” Hardcopies offer a sense of intimacy, allowing consumers to physically grab a book off of the shelf to feel the material of the cover. Online consumers, on the other hand, have to click a button to closely view a pixelated image of the cover. Depending on the website’s viewing availability, consumers may not even be able to see the backside of the book.
   Furthermore, a physical copy can market itself even after it has left the bookstore. When people read traditional books in public, bystanders can see not only the art which visually describes the book’s content, but also information such as the author and title of the work. If enticed by the design, the consumer has the option to purchase the copy. However, when people use e-readers or other electronic devices, no one around them can see what book they are reading. That is, if they are even reading a book. For all we know, they could be reading Facebook posts.
   Online reading is nearly erasing the marketing power of the book cover, forcing the book industry to fundamentally change the way in which it markets to consumers. Many people are going to online retailers only to buy books that were recommended by the public and, on these sites, are no longer given strong visual aesthetics to help anchor other, maybe less popular, book purchases. In addition, online consumers can no longer be seduced by the physicality of a book cover, and potential consumers may never even see the cover art because so many people are consuming literature through electronic devices. As the e-reading trend continues, the book industry loses out on thousands of spontaneous purchases, and their most powerful marketing tool - the book cover.
  • About the Author
    Megan Ashdown is currently a senior studying Professional Writing at Miami University. In her spare time, she likes to read, watch television, or hang out with friends.

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