Judging an eBook by its Cover


With an increasingly digital marketplace for books, is cover art no longer a priority? According to Chip Kidd, Associate Art Director for Alfred A. Knopf, cover design is a dying art.

This recent piece from NPR explores the idea that as eBooks increase in popularity, the importance of a great cover is waning. (As a side note, Chip Kidd is responsible for some iconic book covers, including JURASSIC PARK and NAKED.) Kidd says that people often check out a specific eBook because of a great review or a recommendation—not because of the cover design. So in a rapidly digitizing world, a great cover is no longer a priority. (And there are some really, really bad ones out there.)

A bad cover leaves me with a bad impression about the book—if you can’t bother to put the effort into making sure your book looks good then why would I want to read it? And that is something I always emphasize to authors in our eBook program—a bad cover will never help your sales and even turn readers away. So I find Kidd’s words kind of surprising. Do you think eBook covers are still important? How do they influence your ultimate decision to buy (or not)?


11 Responses to Judging an eBook by its Cover

  1. Kim says:

    I may not buy the e-book (or any book) based on a cover, but a bad or ho-hum cover doesn’t make me even look.

  2. SS says:

    Maybe if we all switched over to some kind of generic white background with the title in Times New Roman for ebooks, covers wouldn’t be important anymore. But as long as there is cover art, to me, looking at the covers (and the titles they’ve picked) tells me whether this is a truly professional ebook or just someone putting up underdeveloped junk they didn’t have the patience to at least get an editor to look over before going straight to the publish button and it isn’t worth my money. A poor cover screams “amateur” to me. Whatever they say, I don’t want a bad cover for my book.

    • Exactly. Self-publishing may be becoming more popular, but it is still something that screams “amateur who couldn’t get a real publisher” to a lot of readers. Poor cover art enforces that suspicion, while a really lovely design speaks of professionalism and adds an air of legitimacy to an ebook.

      I don’t quite get why cover images would be less important for ebooks than physical. The cover is there to incite interest and get the book sold; if that weren’t true, all physical books would have plain covers. When it comes to ebooks, images serve the same purpose. I’ll click on a link with an intriguing cover thumbnail over one with just text.

      In Kidd’s TED talk, he addressed the idea that a cover is kind of a distillation of the essence of a book. I think one’s book collection reflects something of the reader, too, and that’s made visible to others through the packaging before any of the text can be read. Even in a digital age, I like the idea that someone snooping through my Kindle would form the same idea of me through the digital images as they would if I had all those books on physical shelves.

  3. Jude Hardin says:

    The current trend seems to be toward big bold lettering for the title and author name, which makes sense when our first impression is often in thumbnail. a glance at some of the bestseller lists indicates it’s probably the way to go.

  4. K Callard says:

    I don’t buy e-books, but if those covers in the link are any indication of what’s out there, I would definitely base my decision on them. Even if most people do rely on recommendations and reviews on what to buy, I think that at some point they will see a bad cover and say, “wow, that’s bad, I don’t want to read it.”

  5. D. C. DaCosta says:

    I’ve been told, by a very successful, mostly e-published romance writer, that cover art is one of your most important marketing tools….
    I get suspicious when I hear the term “dying art” and am staring to think it simply means “we can’t get anyone to do it for the tiny amount of money we’re willing to pay”.

  6. RamseyH says:

    Wow, I completely disagree with Kidd. About 50% of my book purchases are now digital, and cover art IS important to me. Cover art tells me a lot about what’s inside – like others have said, it points to a level of professionalism. I also look to covers to give me cues about what I’m going to find inside, or whether a particular book is marketed “for me.”

    I do think, however, that cover design is *changing* because of the digital platform. Now you have to account for the fact that some people (like me) will be seeing these covers in black and white on their kindles, and other folks will be seeing them as tiny thumbnails. So design elements are naturally changing to meet those needs. Is that bad? I think it’s just different.

    (Also, I think it would be really cool if I had some ‘digital bookshelf’ online where I could go and browse through all the titles I own by cover art, kind of like you can flip through album covers in iTunes.)

  7. When I design my eBooks, I try to make the best cover I can. It should reflect the content of the book as well as the reading age. It takes me many, many days, sometimes months and I believe it is worth the trouble. Some of the reviews I got especially pointed out the covers. I’m not even near Chip Kidd’s genius but trying really hard has never harmed anyone. Also, using great art supports Indie artists since not every author is a good artist or cover designer.

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