Monday, September 24, 2007

Don't Judge a Book by Its Cover

From TimesOnline comes the interesting theory that boys are being scared away from reading certain books because of their "girlie" covers. As the article points out, it is difficult enough to get boys of a certain age to read books at all, so it is a shame that publishers seem to be further discouraging boy readers by exclusively targeting female readers for many books that would appeal to either gender.

Wendy Cooling, of Bookstart, a charitable programme that encourages children to read, said she was dismayed that publishers were now using gender-specific marketing for certain children’s books. Whereas girls were not put off boys’ books, which tended to have primary colours, few boys dared to be seen reading a pink or purple book, even though they might otherwise enjoy it.

“Publishers are getting the covers wrong. Some stories are perfectly attractive to boys, but they are needlessly put off,” she said.
Publishers, though, seem to believe that they are using the most efficient business model already, one that will result in the largest number of books sold:
Anne McNeil, the publishing director of Hodder Children’s Books, which publishes Saffy’s Angel, said: “Where books are about real contemporary characters rather than fantasy, we find that it is challenging to produce a cover which appeals equally to both genders – the danger is, you end up appealing to neither. Therefore we do tend to make a targeted decision, and are comfortable that this produces more sales.”

Marion Lloyd, publisher of Marion Lloyd Books at Scholastic, which publishes books by Philip Pullman, also defended the use of pink covers.

“Publishers are very conscious about what is a girlie cover and what is a boyish colour. We might look at a book and say ‘A boy would never touch it in a million years, but we don’t mind that if we can sell it to girls’,” she said.
But the last word goes to a critic of "pink covers":
...Amanda Craig, a children’s book critic for The Times, said that such attitudes risked undermining attempts to encourage more boys to read. “Publishers are quite lazy on this issue. They know that girls are more likely to enjoy reading, so it’s easier for them simply to target them. They don’t seem to realise that boys are capable of just as broad a range of reading as girls, once they get started,” she said.
I can see both sides of this argument, but as a male reader, I have to admit that there are plenty of titles that I might read if not for the books' covers. I do a significant portion of my reading in public places (coffee shops, bookstores, while standing in various lines, etc.) and there are many books that are so obviously aimed at female readers that I would not want to be seen reading from them. I suppose that proves the original theory..and that boys never grow up.


  1. I completely agree...and I'm a woman! I do think that it's sad the publishers can't come up with a neutral color, you think they'd want to appeal to both genders? Thanks for the post I didn't realize they chose a girl theme because they were ok with not selling to men. Very informative!!

  2. I suppose, Kristina, since it's all about maximizing sales, that publishers are doing what they think is best for business. But it's a shame that it works out this way.

  3. I have an 11-year-old son and I can say without a doubt, there is NO WAY he would pick up a book with a pink cover! It's sad, but it's true!

  4. "...there are many books that are so obviously aimed at female readers that I would not want to be seen reading from them."


  5. I'm reluctant to buy or check out books if the covers are too romantic, too sexy, too silly. I may order them, though. I love science fiction but the covers are often too much of all of the above for me. Science fiction and fantasy novel covers may be the male equivalent to Romance novels; covers in both genres can be patronizing and are often misleading.

    Maybe none of us ever grow up, or maybe we do and just wish that publishers would give us some credit. :)

  6. My 14 aand 12 year old sons would NEVER read a book with a pink, purple, or otherwise girlish cover.

  7. I totally agree. Those neon pink book covers with purses and shoes splashed on them are certainly not going to attract many boys.
    But it's true for adults too. I know I have been turned off by a book cover on more than one occasion myself.

  8. Hell, I'm turned off by those obnoxiously pink covers, and I'm female! They look like Barbie accessories.

    I bought a chick lit novel last December. The protaganist is Korean-American. But the cover also won me over -- mauve and a little bit of spring green.

  9. I'm not surprised, Stephanie. A boy caught carrying that book around is asking for a lot of grief from his peers. :-)

  10. What can I say, Sylvia? Peer pressure (and funny looks) still influence me. :-)

  11. I'm the same way, Jenclair. Publishers spend a lot of time, I would hope, coming up with the right covers for books and some of what they end up with just amazes me. I've really been surprised on occasion to find some quality writing inside really trashy looking wrappers. They aren't doing their authors any favors.

  12. 3M, I can't say that I blame them much. :-)

    Jamie, I've actually read a couple of books behind closed doors because I didn't want anyone to judge me by the cover of the books...that's sad.

    Bybee, there seems to be a trend of using more earth tones on book covers these days. I find those to be both attractive and "sophisticated" for some reason. Maybe adult book publishers are wising up.

  13. I made that mistake once, and that made me delay the reading of one of the best book I've ever read: Stargirl!
    If I ever have a child and it happens to be a boy, I'll try not to do the same mistake with him.
    The thing is that most of the times is the external influences that do the biggest damage. This gender separation of colours is so SAD and So unfair! Pink is a beautiful colour and suits boys and girls in the same way! I know because in Italy guys (not boys) seem to be less influenced by this. I've seen them wearing Pink/purpled/flowery t-shirts, and looking great, without necessarily being gay.
    With books is slightly different, but why should we blame a colour???
    ONly because someone decided that it's girly? I don't see any logicaL reason. If someone has to make a change is society not publishers.

    This said, if a book is obviously talking about girls issues it won't attract boys anyway. And this is true for most of those pink covered books...
    As much as I'm influenced by the cover I say: don't think with someone else's mind. Don't be afraid of other people's opinion!Think pink:)

  14. My 5 year old son is already rejecting books with girls on the cover or with a mostly pink or purple cover.

    He wont ask for Dora anymore, but then he doesnt ask for Diego much either.

    In fact he prefers Pokemon, Lazy Town, and Sonic Hedgehog, because they are obviously boy stories. The TV is a heavy influence.

    I am somewhat shocked at just how young these kids are being "gender-trained".

  15. Valentina, I wonder how much of the difference between genders is truly genetic and how much comes from our socialization. I've watched young children at play, even as toddlers, and there's a very clear difference usually in the way they behave. Boys just tend to be more aggressive, etc. even before there has been time for society to work on them.

    I agree that the color of a book's cover is a silly way to judge its suitability, but that's one of the main factors when children reach a certain age. Pink, at least in this country, has become strongly associated with girls and boys avoid it at all costs...unless they are prepared to take some heat from their friends. Publishers, for their own good, should at least keep that in mind.

  16. Historia, that's the common reaction from boys. I wonder if little girls avoid "boy books" as strongly as boys shun the "girl books." I'm all for equality among genders, and all that, but there is definitely a difference and I think it's wrong to try to feminize boys the way that this society is trying to do these days.

    I'm not one who sees anything wrong with little boys playing with toy guns or playing cowboy or war games. Heck, that's tame compared to the video games boys get exposed to these days...with all that graphic violence and sex thrown into the mix with one game trying to outdo the next.

  17. I don't think it takes too much socialization for boys to know the score. If chickens can figure out the pecking order, so can toddlers. We're a social species and therefore hard-wired to be sensitive to power relations. Our survival depends on it.

  18. Agreed, Sylvia. I'm starting to wonder how much hidden damage all of our "social engineering" is causing.

  19. Well, I like to think we are intelligent and adaptable enough to rise above relations based on force and group privilege or exclusion, and live according to respect and care for every individual. Today: metrosexuals; tomorrow: boys who can read pink books if they want to. :)

  20. Sylvia, I agree with your first sentence completely.

    ...not so sure about the second one because I can't think of metrosexuals without smiling a bit and shaking my head. I'm too old fashioned to think that's a change for the positive, I think.

  21. Let me put it this way: chicks dig well-dressed men with nice skin and clean apartments. ;)