Monday, October 3, 2011

Will ebooks change the rules for cover design?

by Brian Lindenmuth

Yesterday I was cruising the rest stops on the information superhighway and pulled in for some respite on Twitter. I saw that someone said they were reading Christa Faust's new one, Choke Hold (where's the love Charles, you know I run a review website right! I'mjustsayin.). I didn't think it was out yet so I grabbed my Kindle to see if it was (tomorrow btw).

What grabbed my attention on the Kindle storefront page was the "We Suggest" section. There were four books listed: Carry Yourself Back to Me by Deborah Reed; Feast Day of Fools by James Lee Burke; The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach; and Blood on the Tracks by Cecelia Holland.

The suggestion area isn't one that I normally pay attention to but this one stopped me. I couldn't help but notice that:

-One of the covers jumped immediately out at me and I could clearly tell what it was.

-One cover I could read if I took a slightly closer look.

-One cover title isn't readable at all but the author's name is.

-The other cover is unreadable no matter how long I studied it. (I think this was done on purpose.)

-I have no idea what the color schemes of any of these books are.

-One image is practically non-existent.

All of these observations came to me pretty quickly so it got me thinking about ebooks and covers and how what works well in one sales venue (brick & mortar store) may not work so well in another (ebook store).

So this post really has nothing to do with aesthetics but instead the idea that one cover isn't a universal adapter.

The actual JAMES LEE BURKE* book is splashed with great colors and the name has good contrast with the background. This works well in real life and on devices that display color. In black and white (my Kindle) the entire effect is lost. There is no color, very little contrast and only Burke's last name pops.

Carry Yourself Back to me would have worked better on the Kindle if the font size had been a bit bigger. The author's name is basically invisible and all the details of the background imagery is lost. This book also presents another interesting dilemma; the front cover blurb is invisible and unreadable. In fact even looking at the cover on Amazon on my laptop I can't read the blurb. This blurb is there to satisfy only one distribution market, the brick and mortar store because anywhere else it's useless unless I can make it huge or hold it in my hands.

Sometimes when you see something you can process it right away. BAM!** you know what it says. There are different factors that play into this but certainly size and contrast are two of them. As soon as I saw The Art of Fielding I knew what it said. In fact of the four covers that was the one my eye went right to. It wasn't until I went to Amazon directly that I saw that the color scheme was actually blue and white not black and white. But nothing was lost by the color switch.

Then we come to Blood on the Tracks. On my Kindle I couldn't read the authors name or the title of the book. It wasn't until I saw the image on Amazon that I even knew there was a background image. From a thumbnail, black and white, appearing on the Kindle stand point this cover is basically a debacle. But. I had to click through to see anything about it. So of the four books it was the one that I did click through on, so there's that. But that's a pretty high risk strategy.

The four covers, on my Kindle, measured a half an inch wide and three quarters of an inch tall. On a phone they would appear even smaller.

Do the old rules that guided book cover design still hold sway or are new rules being written. Should different covers be designed for the e-book vs. the physical book to play to each of the respective strengths?

I dunno, but everything is food for thought these days.


Currently reading: Dove Season by Johnny Shaw and To Sleep Gently by Trent Zelazny

Currently listening to: Sara Watkins

*Because when you get to a certain level the title doesn't even matter as much as the author's name.

**Attorney's on behalf of Emeril Lagasse have advised me that ***! is a copyrighted phrase and that I should refrain from using it. I'm thinking of fighting them back so I told them "Let's get ready to rumble!"***

***Stupid Michael Buffer and his lawyers


angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

Very interesting and insightful questions. As an artist that sees her paintings reproduced in thumb nail images I can say that tonal contrast is the most important factor to make an image jump off the page/screen. Chromatical contrast comes second.

Boden said...

Interesting points all around, and plenty to think about, but a lot of the problems considered are from the view that the small thumbnails are the only view of the art and the only opportunity available to use cover art as marketing for an e-book.

This issue often lies with the publishers (and authors) and how they choose to market the cover art as part of the promotion for the book. Cover art, as thumbnail alone, is a waste of that art as a promotional resource. More and more, I DO notice covers announced with a nice crisp view (along with the direct click through to the point of purchase). The cover art can be as big as it needs to be in on blogs, websites, and any other means to promote a book. It can be used for banners, ads, and wallpaper--all as the promotional doorways placed around the web to, again, serve as the click through to the point of purchase.

Usually, by the time I'm at those thumbnails, I've already seen the cover. That should be the goal.

Perhaps my buying and interest in covers is a bit unique, but I almost always make the clicks necessary to view cover art large enough to see what I want to see --this usually means I'm clicking through to those blogs, reviews, and the actual media material that is going to sell me on the content of the book. In other words, if the cover as we know it is made properly available and out there, it's going to be seen, and it's going to be useful.

Just my opinion, but I don't suspect the majority of readers do their due diligence for a book purchase on the merits of a thumbnail. Is this naive?

Unknown said...

This post and the comments so far cover the major points with ebook covers. The same considerations are discussed in a "campfire pow-wow" between three authors in the September-November edition of the online magazine Black Horse Extra:
"...cover images are definitely still important. The great pity is that they are seldom displayed on retail sites in much more than thumbnail size, and it's generally the reader who has decided to download the book's text who bothers to look at a larger version. By this time the cover's traditional work – selling the book – has been done."

But, as Boden says, covers can be displayed in all their glory on writers' websites and blogs!

Buchgestaltung said...

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