Monday, December 20, 2010

Do E-Books Even Need Covers?

I got my Sony Reader back from my granddaughter last weekend so that I could download a review copy of Pat Conroy's first novel, The Boo.  I was a little disappointed to learn that the review copy has a built-in ticking time-bomb that will destroy it exactly 60 days from the moment I completed its download.  I can understand the publisher's reasoning for doing it that way (I suppose), but that got me thinking again about the difference between e-books and real books - and why I will always prefer the real thing to a stupid digital file that has no personality or eye appeal.

 I went out of my way, and spent a good deal of money, to place a whole wall of built-in bookshelves in the study of this house when we built it eleven years ago.  I still enjoy puttering around the shelves, coming up with new filing schemes and presentations as the mood strikes me.  Try doing that with a collection of e-books.  Bookshelves reveal much about their owner, sometimes more than the owner intends, I'm sure.  Are your shelves filled with James Patterson and Danielle Steele novels to the exclusion of most everything else?  Do the Twilight novels occupy a prominent position on your shelves?  Right alongside your collection of multiple copies of the Harry Potter series, perhaps?  If so, you might want to make sure that your boss doesn't peruse your shelves during your next Christmas party if being taken seriously by her is important to you.

When given a chance to study the bookshelves of friends or family members, heavy-duty readers cannot resist.  And, whether they will admit it to you are not, they make personal judgments based on what they see on those shelves.  Savvy book owners know this, of course, and they use their books to tell others about themselves. All e-book collectors can do, on the other hand, is call up their little digital bookshelves and pass the e-reader or iPad around the room.  Not quite the same, is it?

Then, there are the book covers.  Simply put, I love book covers.  They are often pieces of art, much like those LP recording covers of the past (I still keep some of my favorite LPs in frames in my office and they get an amazing number of comments from visitors).  The first thing a potential buyer sees of a real book is its dust jacket and, if that cover is bad enough, it can end up being the only thing a potential buyer will see.  Some dust jackets are so bad that male readers cannot imagine being seen in public with them.  I'm sure the same, in reverse, is true for female readers.

We all love browsing in bookstores, even if we are supposedly there on a mission to buy one particular title.  If you are like me, and I suspect that most of you are, the majority of the books you buy are those that just happen to catch your eye as you wander around the store.  Some books just seem to call to you; others slap you in the head, they seem so perfect - and that's before you even open them.  I don't know what percentage of a book's sales can be attributed to the eye appeal of its cover, but I am willing to bet that the positive impact of an attractive cover is substantial.  How can browsing through tiny little icon book covers on your browser compare to the experience of a real bookstore?  It can't, of course, it can't.


  1. Great post, Sam - I wholeheartedly agree!

    It's funny - I spend time getting my library just the right way and I can't wait to show it off to people, but as soon as someone walks in and starts looking at it, I get nervous about what they're thinking.

  2. I agree with you. A friend told me she could share an e-book but only for 8 days! I just love the feel and smell of a new book and can't wait to read it and pass it on to a friend. I'm not sure I could ever give them up.

  3. I definitely agree. I love a book with a beautiful cover. Sometimes that's just what gets me and keeps me excited about a book!

    I love ogling other peoples' bookshelves when I visit their houses and as well as as perusing bookstore shelves and having great conversations with the friend I'm browsing with as a result.

    I can see how e-readers can make reading more convenient especially for traveling and such, but, except for that I'd sooner not have my beloved books reduced to an austere sort of electronic experience.

  4. It may be true that you cannot tell a book by its cover, but [I contend] you can definitely SELL a book by its cover.
    I am a lover of good book cover!
    And I agree with you Sam, about the bookshelf thing. If I visit someone with laden bookshelves I will be lost in those shelves unless somehow prohibited. I've had people visit me, and my apartment is nearly entirely bookshelf.... and if they have no interest in my books, I immediately know that the visit will involve more mundanity than I want to host. It almost saddens me when I see people uninterested in my shelves.
    The e-book phenomenon is welcome in many ways [all involving convenience, I suppose] but as for me, I will always be a simple paperboy.

  5. Annie, that's's impossible for others to see your collection through your eyes - and it's difficult to know when to stop talking about your books even when someone is browsing the shelves. I can spend hours looking at books in other homes...and got caught in my bosses library during a Christmas party a few years ago. Turns out, though, that I made some extra points in his mind because he talked books with me at the office on a regular basis for the next couple of years.

  6. Ann, you are one of those people who love books as much as objects as for what it is in them. People like us will never feel that way about e-books. Those things are a convenience but are second best by a country mile.

  7. Well said, Megan. I just finished another e-book that I downloaded directly from a publisher for review purposes. I really have such a hard time "getting into" an e-book that I'm starting to be afraid that the lesser experience taints my review of the book. I really have to watch myself.

  8. Cip, you hit on an excellent point. I have found myself disappointed with my friends who show zero interest in my collection despite the fact that it's staring them in the face. How can anyone overlook so many books and stories about where they came from and what's in them? Are people really so lacking in curiosity? These are the same folks, I suspect, who are addicted to "reality" TV and spend hours on the couch eating up that stuff. I hate to say it, but I lose a bit of respect for them.


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