IVP - Andy Unedited - Books Without Covers

April 1, 2010

Books Without Covers

Every few months we get together a whole bunch of us from editorial, marketing, sales, production and design--anyone substantively involved in making or selling a book--to evaluate the releases from a season in the previous year. Once we had a cover designer attending for the first time. In trying to explain to the designer what the meeting was all about, someone said with a wry smile and in a voice everyone could hear, "This is the meeting in which we do judge a book by its cover."

Covers are mightily important to a book's success. But is that changing? Motoko Rich points out in The New York Times that more and more you actually can't judge a book by its cover. Why? Because e-books don't have covers--at least not ones you can see while someone is reading the book.

Sitting in a coffee shop or walking down the aisle of an airplane we can see the covers of books or magazines that people are reading. But, as Rich says, "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."

That may be just one of many unintended consequences of e-books, and also one more challenge/opportunity for publishers facing the electronic age.

Posted by Andy Le Peau at April 1, 2010 9:10 AM Bookmark and Share


I think often publishers do a great job of conveying the tone of a book through its cover design. And I love the idea that something about one art form can be communicated through another. ... Although granted, it's probably less based on art and more on thinking like, "Ok, the people who liked Glass Castle will this this new book, too, so let's do a simple cover with an old-fashioned childhood photo to rope them in." Either way, I must admit that I place a ridiculous amount of stock in a book's appearance. There. I said it.

Comment by: Rachel Shields at April 2, 2010 12:03 PM


You bet covers are important--still very important, even in a digital era when they might be slightly less important.


Comment by: Andy Le Peau at April 2, 2010 12:09 PM

I don't think I can buy a digital book if it doesn't have a cover for me to judge! :-)

Comment by: Rachel Shields at April 2, 2010 6:42 PM

Hi Rachel

True enough. E-books still usually have covers when you are considering them online. So those covers haven't disappeared. But I think the point of the NYT's article is still valid--we can't tell what others are reading as easily since reading devices don't show those nearby what the person is reading. So, it makes covers somewhat less valuable and important in an electronic era.


Comment by: Andy Le Peau at April 5, 2010 9:31 AM

Much will be lost when more books migrate to e-books: heft, history, and publicly displayed covers (aesthetic qualities). I wrote about this back in The Soul in Cyberspace (1997).

Comment by: Doug Groothuis at April 5, 2010 10:26 PM


Not surprising you've been way ahead of us all.


Comment by: Andy Le Peau at April 6, 2010 9:34 AM

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book cover"Some publishers tell you what to believe. Other publishers tell you what you already believe. But InterVarsity Press helps you believe," says J. I. Packer. Andy Le Peau and Linda Doll describe how this came to be a hallmark of InterVarsity Press in Heart. Soul. Mind. Strength, an anecdotal history spanning the sixty years from the founding of IVP in 1947 to the present day.