Friday, April 9, 2010

In E-Book Era, You Can’t Even Judge a Cover

Via The New York Times

Bindu Wiles was on a Q train in Brooklyn this month when she spotted a woman reading a book whose cover had an arresting black silhouette of a girl’s head set against a bright orange background.

Ms. Wiles noticed that the woman looked about her age, 45, and was carrying a yoga mat, so she figured that they were like-minded and leaned in to catch the title: “Little Bee,” a novel by Chris Cleave. Ms. Wiles, a graduate student in nonfiction writing at Sarah Lawrence College, tapped a note into her iPhone and bought the book later that week.

Such encounters are becoming increasingly difficult. With a growing number of people turning to Kindles and other electronic readers, and with the Apple iPad arriving on Saturday, it is not always possible to see what others are reading or to project your own literary tastes.

Among other changes heralded by the e-book era, digital editions are bumping book covers off the subway, the coffee table and the beach. That is a loss for publishers and authors, who enjoy some free advertising for their books in printed form: if you notice the jackets on the books people are reading on a plane or in the park, you might decide to check out “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” or “The Help,” too.

“So often when you’re thinking of a book, you remember its cover,” said Jeffrey C. Alexander, professor of cultural sociology at Yale. “It’s a way of drawing people through the visual into reading.”

Perhaps no other element of the book-making process receives as much input from as many different people as the jacket. First, a creative director comes up with an idea. (How about this image of an apple?) Then the book’s editor, author and agent have a look. (Can we enlarge the font size on the author’s name? And wasn’t an apple used for that book about vampires? This book isn’t about vampires.) The publisher of the imprint gets involved. (Vampires sell. I like the apple.) The sales force makes comments. (Isn’t there an economics angle? How about an apple with an orange inside? That’s worked before.) Even booksellers have an opinion. (What I really love on a cover is a pair of high heels.)

A good jacket is unlikely to save a bad book, of course. But in a crowded market, a striking cover is one advantage all authors and publishers want.

For now, many publishers are counting on the Facebook effect. “Before, you might see three people reading ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ on the subway,” said Clare Ferraro, president of Viking and Plume, imprints of Penguin Group USA. “Now you’re going to log onto Facebook and see that three of your friends are reading ‘Eat, Pray, Love.’ ”
Read the entire article here.

Image Source : Frabuleuse

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