Book Covers: Free Advertising

April 3, 2010 at 2:25 pm Leave a comment

A New York Times article by Motoko Rich called “In E-Book Era, You Can’t Even Judge a Cover” posits the idea that a book’s cover is great free advertising for that particular book, especially in people-dense settings like public trains, buses, and cafés:

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.

I must confess to being a surreptitious book cover snoop whenever I’m riding the MRT or public buses. I like to see what other people are reading, to get general trends in the reading public, but also to seek recommendations from folks who look like they may be of similar literary temperament to myself. (I’m also heartened whenever I see a teenage girl reading anything but the Twilight books, but hey, that’s just me.)

However, reports Rich, this practice is in danger with the rise of eReaders:

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.

You can’t tell a book by its cover if it doesn’t have one.


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.

The article then goes on state the importance of covers in bookshops and libraries, and when sharing books with friends. A book’s cover is the first thing a potential reader will see, and it must simultaneously grab the eye and appeal to the type of reader who might like it; it should also hopefully have something to do with the book’s plot, but publishers will often tell you that this is a bonus rather than a feature.

An anecdote: just yesterday at the Times Bookshop at Marina Square, I picked up a copy of Thomas More’s classic text Utopia. There was not a burning need for me to read this book, although I’ve been wanting to for years, especially as my favorite literary subgenre is Dystopian Speculative Fiction (which obviously owes its existence to More’s book), but what got me to pick it up this time was the book’s cover. Part of Penguin’s “Great Ideas” series, which is known for its minimalist cover design, the book is also debossed throughout, giving it an incredible tactile sensation and physical texture. It begs to be stroked.

What innovative or striking covers have gotten you to pick up a particular book?


Entry filed under: Recreational Reading.

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Library Club Leadership

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Mrs Rosalind Lee (SC)
Mdm Chan May Lun
Mdm Shieh Le-shiang
Mrs Kris Koo (Senior AO)
Mrs Wang Meng Juan (AO)

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