Kindle and The Future of Book Covers

What might the future of book covers be? The Atlantic (“Has Kindle Killed the Book Cover?”) assesses the current state of the book cover in a Kindle world.

“A digital book has no cover. There’s no paper to be bound up with a spine and protected inside a sturdy jacket. Browsers no longer roam around Borders scanning the shelves for the right title to pluck. Increasingly, instead, they scroll through Amazon’s postage stamp-sized pictures, which don’t actually cover anything, and instead operate as visual portals into an entire webpage of data (publication date, reader reviews, price) some of which can also be found on a physical cover and some of which cannot.”

Why hasn’t the book cover evolved with the rest of the book in the Ebook Age? Is it because the idea of the book cover outdated? Perhaps it’s sentiment on my part (“The cover ‘functions as an emotional visual touchstone’”), but it’s hard to believe that to be the case because a book’s cover is such an ingrained part of what we understand the entire mechanism of a book to be. But perhaps the function of the book cover is overdue for a change.

And clearly, that change isn’t there yet:

“Paul Buckley, Vice President, Executive Creative Director at Penguin — who oversees the development of 800 book covers each year — noted the expense of adding digital features: “Benefits have not yet caught up to the costs of this extra content. Because the viewer’s not going to pay for it.” Publishers’ art departments haven’t traditionally come equipped with highly tech-savvy illustrators and typographers. And even as more digitally-capable designers arrive, so too will their demand for new tools to support their talents.”

With some insight on the ebook creation process, it is easier to understand why book covers have been a lower priority: they’re no longer the primary means of how a book is ‘packaged’ and therefore, sold —

“When Buckley’s team at Penguin designs a book cover, they turn it into a PDF (or sometimes a JPG) and load it onto their server for someone else to send out into the marketplace. But major retailers, like Apple’s iBook store, won’t sell ebooks as PDFs, mainly because these files can’t adapt to different screen sizes. Instead, publishers must offer up their books in a format called EPUB, sometimes by working backwards and converting from the PDF. The EPUB file can then be changed again, as is the case for Amazon’s Kindle. In other words, digital reading doesn’t only have one kind of digital expression, and this poses obvious complications for how books may be aesthetically packaged.”

Basically, nobody has figured out Book Cover 2.0 yet. What comes next?

And yes, you can get the chic Kate Spade Kindle covers in various flavors of Great Expectations, The Great Gatsby, or The Importance of Being Earnest. But it’s just not the same.


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I run the ThinkLab at the University of Cambridge, and research digital habits, productivity, and wellbeing.

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