As digital publishing platforms become more expansive in formatting, availability, and range, digital book covers have reemerged in importance. Originally, book covers were ornate designs made for the rich, then a protective measure for books, before finally becoming chest pieces in book marketing. Designs not only had to be somewhat reflective of the book but also needed the ability to draw potential readers. Author and columnist Tim Kreider even states that there are two main “principles of design—in books:”
1. Your product must be bold and eye-catching and conspicuously different from everyone else’s, but
2. Not too much!https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/the-decline-and-fall-of-the-book-cover
The same principles hold in digital publishing now, as many websites now mimic the appearance of front-facing books in physical books shop: Kindle, Play Books, Libby (OverDrive), ComiXology, Radish. Previously, platforms like Tapas and Webtoon predominantly displayed thumbnails where the covers were constrained to a one-by-one square designed to take a small portion of the screen. Much like Audible displays their audiobooks and how Radish formats their serialized stories now. Nevertheless, in recent years both websites have changed to include a larger thumbnail that mimics the design of a physical book. The change can most likely be attributed as a testament to the quality of the art and story to lure more readers, similar to how traditional publishing markets a book.
Moreover, the cover of an e-book can deter readers from even purchasing a book, and according to Giles Clark and Angus Phillips in Inside Book Publishing, “books without covers on Amazon do not sell well.” It reinforces the idea that digital book covers have become a vital form of metadata that, as Sophie Darling quotes, “acts as a ‘visual portal.” Metadata, in simple terms, is “any data that describes your book.” This, in turn, with the fact that book covers now take up more space in digital publishing platforms, makes book cover designs more crucial to the success of the book in the digital market. Especially since more traditionally published books with proper funding are becoming more easily accessible in these markets. For example, Marissa Meyer’s The Lunar Chronicles and her Renegades series are slowly becoming available on Kindle Unlimited. Meyer’s book covers have also taken on a more stylized, illustrative, and dynamic design to appeal to a slightly more modern readership after ten years.
This is a rising trend in print books and among self-published authors in the digital bookscape. Rendering Kreider’s initial belief that “the illustrated book cover, like painted movie posters or newspaper comics, is pretty much dead” as grossly inaccurate. That, along with the idea that book covers were a concept that would phase out. Furthermore, massive digital book platforms like Kindle and Google Play Books display the cover of a book for approximately a few seconds before opening the body of the text. Thus, reinforcing the idea the book cover is essentially promoting valuable ideas concerning the work. As Nielsen, a book retail sales analysis group, states:
“Given the indications that we have for online sales, there is a strong suggestion that supplying complete and enhanced metadata will be even more vital for e-books, where the bibliographic data is the consumer’s only source of information. The implication is that as the book industry takes its next step into the digital age, metadata will not only remain an essential part of the industry but become increasingly important.”(Breedt and Walter)
However, as important as these book covers are, many self-published authors starting out cannot afford to commission an artist to create any type of cover. These authors often create book covers themselves using free stock images or with their own artistic talents like Kimberly Lemming. To better market their books to make up for their poor metadata book jackets, authors utilize many social media marketing trends like those on TikTok that draw the focus towards the body of work rather than the less than impressive e-book cover. They present presumably the best excerpts from their novels as well as themes they consider impressive or exciting to garner interest.
Nevertheless, a book cover still is, as Bill McCoy says, “an introduction to the experience you’re going to have in consuming this [its] content.” Moreover, as platforms continue to push book covers forward, they are becoming a form of metadata worth investing in. A prime example would be Ruby Dixion’s special edition covers for her Ice Planet Barbarians series. She recently invested in a new cover for a print version of her book, as she finally had the funds to do so. However, as this author grows, she seems to be slowly replacing all of her book covers for this series and updating the metadata in Google. This is an indication that these new stylized, illustrative covers are seemingly testing better with her growing readership and bringing her more readers than her previous book covers.
Breedt, Andre, and David Walter. 2012. “White Paper: The Link between Metadata and Sales.” Nielson BookData UK., January.
Clark, Giles N, and Angus Phillips. 2019. Inside Book Publishing. London ; New York: Routledge.
Darling, Sophie. 2019. “How Are Book Covers and Their Components Represented in the Digital Market?” Interscript Journal, no. 2 (June): 20–35. https://doi.org/10.14324/111.444.2398-4732.004.