Dispatches from the Digital Revolution
As my friends at Appazoogle can tell you, I’ve been running around saying crazy things like “books don’t need covers anymore!” for the last several months. And this week, I’ve finally found someone who validates—kind of—what most of the people I know dismiss as signs of mental imbalance.
Craig Mod’s essay “Hack the Cover” discusses the future of book covers: specifically, how they’re undoubtedly on the way out. Mod writes:
Dead! Sure, they are. In the same way that glue for a paperback binding is dead, or sewn in bookmarks are dead. There’s a digital glue holding our electric pages together, but it’s different. And there’s a way to bookmark your Kindle ‘page,’ but that’s different, too.
What’s interesting is the extent to which Mod’s essay is informed by his work as a book designer. So while I’m saying things like “we don’t even need art for books anymore,” Mod’s vision of the future is a little more reasonable. He still considers the visual component to be important, but not in the same way a cover is important. Mod’s essay cites a 2010 piece by James Bridle discussing the same concept; in Bridle’s words:
If we’re going to continue to use “covers” as marketing material, which presumably we will as long as digital texts have physical counterparts, we need to recognise that their reproduction is out of our control: they will be copied, linked, and reposted, at different resolutions and sizes … We might also recognise that there are potentially many different jobs for the cover to do.
As someone who works in marketing (and goes through many endless rounds of cover design deliberation with editors and designers), it’s kind of scary to think of relinquishing control over point size and font. But I recognize the point: instead of marketers blindly dictating stock cover art, this is kind of a renaissance for book designers. It presents a new set of challenges beyond choosing the right font and stock photo; book design in a digital world should be concept-based, developed in a way that provides the most flexibility, that can be resized, reassembled, taken apart and redone. So, essentially, branding.
I must say…that’s pretty exciting.
Mod acknowledges that there are challenges to this, specifically in platform capability (see this Atlantic article for more on that), but is optimistic—as are many others—that current ebook formats are just a starting point, and someday in the not-too-distant future we will be able to take advantage of all the capabilities of digital display.