Randal S. Brandt, a librarian at the University of California, Berkeley’s Bancroft Library (and creator of A David Dodge Companion), recently pointed me toward an essay in the blog Design Sponge that talks about the changing impact of covers in the era of e-books.
“Although many a scholar and book enthusiast would be loath to admit it,” writes contributor Maxwell Tielman, “many of the same superficial impulses are at play when purchasing a book as with purchasing things like clothing--impulses like the desire to fit in, stand out, or project one’s personality to the public. This is because, until recently with the proliferation of e-book readers, the book and its cover functioned much in the same way that clothing or furniture did. In a home, printed books would line bookshelves and coffee tables, physical emblems of the owner’s intellectual and artistic tastes and values. Unlike the furniture that fills one’s home, though, books are also portable, making them not only potent symbolic furnishings, but fashion statements.”
Furthermore, the sight of numerous people enjoying the same book in public--on a bus or commuter train, or in a civic square during lunchtime--can make the cover of that work a physical advertisement and influence broad reading habits.
However, with more people reading on tablets and other electronic devices--“identical grey rectangles which bear little or no resemblance to the
content held within”--the covers of books have become less important. “Although it might be too early to say whether or not the e-book industry will have a detrimental impact on ‘high’ literature and our general appreciation for book design, it will be interesting to see how this trend progresses,” Tielman concludes.
You can find his complete essay here.
READ MORE: “25 Reasons Real Books Are Here to Stay,” by Kelly Robinson (Book Dirt).