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Book Cover Design Challenges in a Changing Landscape

I found this article in The Atlantic fascinating. Various people in the book publishing industry, from marketing experts, to traditional designers to the publishers themselves, weigh in on the increasing challenges and rapidly changing demands for books – where does the idea of a cover and cover design fit in when many books are now files as opposed to physical objects? What about interactive digital covers that users can modify at will and display to suit their own idea of how the book’s cover should look? Will traditional design, even artwork accompanying a story, become obsolete, a collectible relic of the past?

While many proponents of physical books and traditional cover art feel threatened and marginalized by the building change, others are curious and intrigued, and excited to try their hand at being part of the new reality – that is, the undeniable fact that electronic books are here to stay as a part of our culture now. I for one welcome both, and believe there is room for both. The world is full of readers – not only those who read just for the content, the words, ideas, information and stories, who are content to have e-books without any of the frills, but also those who need the full sensory experience of touch, smell and art in order to be fully satisfied with a book. There is room for both, a demand for both, and it will be interesting to see how designers rise to meet the challenge of keeping books beautiful and cover art relevant when covers, in some circumstances, are no longer strictly necessary.

I thought this quote from the article worded my own feelings eloquently:

“Book designer Carin Goldberg remembers when she would sit in her room as a teenage girl listening to Joni Mitchell, holding the record in her arms. Since then she has designed hundreds of covers—among them are the 1986 edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses, books by Kurt Vonnegut, and Madonna’s first record. The cover ‘functions as an emotional visual touchstone,’ Goldberg says. ‘It’s still something that we will always visualize in our heads as what that book looked like. It definitely becomes part of the experience.’”

Because after all, reading is a pleasure as often as a necessity – sometimes beauty and decoration and stimulation is reason enough for existence, for creation.

Posted by on April 17, 2012.

Categories: art, publishers, technology

2 Responses

  1. I say covers matter and I’ll be buying a copy of this book. Like a title, a cover should point to the heart of a book, and it should be a dialogue with the content. I have a nascent collection of books about book covers. I love Chip Kidd’s retrospective and a couple of volumes about Penguin covers. Thank you for this post.

    by aging lit major on Apr 17, 2012 at 6:06 pm

  2. You’re welcome, ALM, and thank you for the comment. I agree with you, by the way, both about books and about music. It’s easy to feel like we’ve placed efficiency and convenience as paramount above all else – I may be able to fit fifty favillion songs into my iPod, but I miss the excitement of a new CD’s or record’s cover art, lyric sheets etcetera, and the same is true for books. I love the cover art.

    by elizabethc on Apr 18, 2012 at 4:15 pm

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