Sunday, May 8, 2011

Do you judge an e-book by its cover?

by: Joelle Charbonneau

So – e-books have changed the publishing game. While I don’t favor reading books on screen, I am willing to admit this is true. I’m also willing to admit that many things about the purely e-book publishing model baffle me. (For the purposes of this particular discussion purely e-book refers to both the e-publishing company versions as well as the self-published books equally.)

Take covers for instance. I understand why covers have always been important for a book. As a reader browsing the bookstore, the cover will either have me picking up a book I was otherwise unfamiliar with or rejecting it before ever reading the flap copy. People say you can’t judge a book by its cover – but really – isn’t that what covers are for? I judge them all the time. For good or for ill, covers are the main marketing tool in a bookstore. (This only works for the author if the bookstore actually stocks the book – but that’s a discussion for another day.)

What I don’t understand is whether covers have the same importance in the virtual bookstore. Yes – an e-book only author still needs a marketing tool for their website, social media and the blogs they might visit. Covers are great for that. And if you are with an e-book publishing company you probably get your cover displayed along side other covers on their website. That’s good, too. But does an e-book cover have the same ability to invoke impulse purchases that a physical cover does?

I don’t know. Honest. Perhaps this is because I don’t peruse the virtual shelves the way I do the physical ones. In the physical store, I’m looking for the unknown author – the next great gem that I can’t wait to delve into. In the virtual store I’m searching for specific authors and titles. I find them. I buy them. I leave the website. I don’t browse.

So I guess I’m looking for the real e-book reader (which clearly isn't me) to give me their perspective. How important is a cover to you in the digital world? When you’re searching for a specific title does the cover help you decide whether or not to hit the buy button? Or are you like me? Are you searching for authors you know either personally, virtually or through their previous work where the work is more important than the image on the screen? How do you do your e-book shopping? Does the virtual cover truly make the same impact as a physical one? Tell me! I really want to know.


Unknown said...

I think the cover means as much in either "real books" or eBooks, and maybe even more in eBooks with the prevelance of authors that you may have (most likey) never heard from before. Further, the more and more I move to reading eBooks, especially with authors I haven't read before, the Cover is what draws me into reading a synopsis. I also find that with eBooks, I have become even more critical of not only the cover (does it have anything to do with the book?) but also formating, typos, chapter seperators, acknowledgements, and all those other things I, as an avid reader, like in a print book. Additionally, I think a well done cover is the first sign that the author took their work seriously, and just maybe, whats inside will have as much attention to detail.

Declan Burke said...

"I think a well done cover is the first sign that the author took their work seriously, and just maybe, whats inside will have as much attention to detail."

That's pretty much it in a nutshell, I think.

Cheers, Dec

Joelle Charbonneau said...

Robert - I really loved your last comment. Yes - I do think a well done cover is the first sign than an author took their time. I hadn't thought of it that way!

Patrick Ley said...

Honestly I think ebook covers matter less to me, because I do less random browsing and am more likely to be coming looking for a specific title based on reviews, twitter, etc. When I actually browse, though, the covers matter just as much.

Dorte H said...

As Robert and Declan say ...

The cover will often be the potential customer´s first impression. And as a writer of e-books, I have noticed that my blog friends are my best ambassadors. They are much better at selling my stuff than I am myself. And I really want to believe that the cover they put up on their blogs make a difference.

And though good reviews by trusted friends are more important to me than covers, I may be put off if it doesn´t appeal to me at all.

Dru said...

It doesn't matter if I'm in a bookstore or online, the cover is my first impression of any book, whether the author is new-to-me or known. The blurb and the first paragraph will determine if a purchase will be made. I like what Robert said about a well-done cover.

Julia March said...

100% of my book buying is e-books, online. The covers online work the same way as they do in a meat-world bookstore.

I browse randomly a lot. A cover can cause me to check out the sample of the whole book. (So can a title, or a good review.)

Donnell Ann Bell said...

J. Yes, I think a cover means as much to an e-book as it does to a physical book. One of your commenters has already said it. The cover is still the marketing tool/ploy that draws the reader in. A sloppy cover, I'll be inclined to think the writer does sloppy work.

And that applies to bound books as well as e-books.

Donnell Ann Bell said...

One more comment from the peanut gallery. I should say "Right or wrong," I'll be inclined to think the author did sloppy work. It's like a birthday gift. If you wrap it in beautiful packaging and ribbons, it's more exciting than say a brown paper bag. That doesn't mean beautifully packaged work will have as enticing a gift. Nor does it mean what's in the paper bag is garbage :)

Mike Dennis said...

Joelle--I have to go along with Declan Burke on this one. The cover is indeed your first indication that the author is serious. Once you see a cover that strikes you, your expectations on what is between the covers will automatically rise. You have been drawn to the promised land, now the author has to deliver on the promise.

John Dax said...

Absolutely people do judge books by their covers, I even devoted a blog entirely to it. Publishing is a huge business, and marketing is a huge part of that.

This is no less true for eBooks. I read equal parts print and ebooks now and covers are no less important for that initial "hey, give this a closer look" hook. Then I'll check out the description, etc.

With the pervasive nature of the internet, a book cover designed to look compelling at a thumbprint size will have great effect as it's propagated through Facebook, Goodreads, etc.

Sabrina E. Ogden said...

I'm doing a blog post tomorrow that is about my Kindle and how and why I bought these books. Cover art was not a factor in any of the purchases yet when I noticed a couple of the books didn't have a cover when I went to read them, I was disappointed. A cover is like a sneak peek inside the book. Kinda sets the tone when it's done correctly. I might not be buying my Kindle books based on a cover, but I'm sure other people are. How can you not take the time and create a cover? Aren't there laws agaist that?

Kevin Burton Smith said...

Covers matter to me. Cleverness, originally, a distinctive vision. Freshness. Wit. Passion.

Something catches my eye, I want to know more.

So art matters. For both cover and content. Yes, of course a great book could have a lousy cover, but why should it?

I want good covers, good stories and good editing, whether it's in print or digital.

E-books should be embracing quality and professionalism; not be used as a dodge around it.

A crappy cover (or lack of editing or proper formatting) suggests neither the publisher nor the author cared enough to get it right. Even 99 cents should buy you something professional.