The content concierge: Curation and personalization, not discovery
Why are you surprised by Amazon's pricing fluctuations?

When will ebook covers evolve?

I suppose that's a silly question, especially since ebooks themselves really haven't evolved yet. They're still basically "print under glass", quick-and-dirty conversions from print, so it's no surprise that the covers are still as static as the print books they're based on.

The current book cover was designed for the physical world, of course. It serves as a billboard on the shelf for those rare instances when the book is face-out in a store. Covers are intended to be as unique and memorable as possible, selling the key features of the product. But they're also designed to be a lot larger than ebook covers ever appear on screen. So what happens when a print book cover that's 6 X 9" is reduced to the size of a postage stamp? Details are lost, the selling impact is diminished and the branding impression is compromised.

As I scroll through the various category pages on Amazon I can read most of the titles, but almost all of the subtitles are unreadable. A better solution would be to automatically pop up a larger image of the cover as I mouse over each one. Btw, do you want to see a publisher who understands the challenges of branding with smaller cover images? Look at all the Lonely Planet product icons in iTunes. You'll see they use the same template across the entire library and each title is distinguished from the others with three large letters: The location's airport code. Brilliant. Yes, I know that's a very unique vertical market. My point is to show that you can create something unique and memorable, even when the real estate available is as small as an icon.

There's plenty of innovation yet to happen with the content of the book and I hope the same proves true for the cover. Why do covers have to remain static? As I mentioned above, why not have them auto-magnify when I hover over them? Maybe have that pop-up show not only a larger cover image but also a few more details (e.g., short description, quick breakdown of 5-star vs. 1-star reviews, etc.)? How about making those cover images flippable? Touch it and the cover flips to show that info I want in the magnified version, just like the back of a baseball card? Then make sure I can drag that object off the page and drop it onto my own website, with my review and/or affiliate code built into the resulting link.

There's so much more we can do with covers but, again, we need to stop looking at them as simply static, digital renderings of the print cover.



Hi Joe - I wrote a post along similar lines, more focussed on how book covers can change as we are reading them - - it's not really focussed on sales, more about responding and creating an emotional connection with the reader as they are working through the book. (I also try and make them work as small icons)

Arun Benty

Great post Joe. Book covers have been my favorite topic of discussion. I think there's a parallel between the book spine and the app icon or ebook thumbnail, both suffer from the real estate problem, but are the usually the first thing that catch a browsers attention. Here's a post I had written some time ago regarding this:
There's a must-watch TED talk by Chip Kidd on book cover design I have posted in the blog, it's a lot of fun.

Adam C. Engst

I'd put more emphasis on asking why ebook retailers do such a lousy job of displaying ebook covers. If all they're going to provide is a tiny thumbnail, we publishers have to design for that. We've gone through two generations of cover design with Take Control to ensure our covers are at least sort of readable at that tiny size. But there's even another issue - title length. If you've ever searched for a Complete Idiot's Guide on the iBookstore, you'll notice that it truncates the long titles so you can barely get any unique characters at all. Our Take Control series (where all titles start with "Take Control of") suffer somewhat in this milieu as well, though not as badly.

Of course, some of the blame on static postage stamp covers can also be laid at the feet of ebook reading software and the EPUB format in general. In the PDF versions of our ebooks, there's always a hotlinked button that the reader can click to get new versions or blog posts about the book - that level of interactivity can't be extended to EPUB because EPUB covers are just static images that can't have links attached, and they're displayed in a wide variety of random ways by ebook reading apps (again, usually at thumbnail size).


We're trying to address that problem at Frisch & Co: They


Accidentally hit post on the last one. They're designed to be legible at lots of different sizes, and they're simply designed since so many of the smaller details go missing.

The problem with the bigger publishers is that they don't want to double their efforts--making a different cover for the print and ebook editions. So change with this will have to come from e-only publishers, I suppose.

Francis Hamit

We try to buy cover art that will scale and is fairly dramatic. We have the final covers professionally designed. For all that, the only real reason for having a cover image is because everyone else does and it's the only way to maintain visual and brand parity.

Jonathan Weavers

Hey -

Your last post [When will ebook covers evolve?] was freaking awesome. I have gone ahead and added your stuff to my Feedly account. Please keep me updated if you post anywhere else.

Keep rocking –


Francis Hamit

Dear Joe:

Last night I discovered that Amazon KDP has a new "design your own cover" feature that is in beta. I decided to try it out and dusted off a story, "The Tragedy of the Goats" which had been waiting for me to get around to buying a cover for it. I found the feature easy to use and actually fun to play with. Amazon keeps on innovating. File uploads are also easier now. So there it is today at an introductory price of $1.09. It is eye-catching, even if the image has little to do with the story, which is not really about goats.

This is a game changer. It eliminates another barrier to publishing.


Francis Hamit
Brass Cannon Books


I don't know about that, Francis. While I agree that Amazon is constantly improving, I doubt covers made with their tool will compete well with those produced by professional graphic designers. When ordinary folks design their own covers, it shows. And readers are going to keep on judging books by their covers.

It seems like "the kids these days" want a heaping dose of images to go with their content. I suspect more novels will become like graphic novels, or at least there's going to be a growth of heavily illustrated novels. In that world, bigger, better covers will be a must.

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