L'Ombre de l'Olivier

The Shadow of the Olive Tree

being the maunderings of an Englishman on the Côte d'Azur

07 December 2009 Blog Home : December 2009 : Permalink

Prejudging a Book by its Cover

I don't buy many books in bookshops these days as most of the books I want are more readily available online and indeed I buy most of my reading material as ebooks anyway. However I found this description of book buyers literally judging books by their covers to be amusing and informative:

One thing that I've noticed happening more and more often in the store when people are browsing and chatting in front of the New Release Trade paperback shelf is that a customer will point at a specific book and say:

"Is this self-published?"


"Wow, there are a lot of self-published books here."

In fact, none of the books at which they're pointing are self-published.

I finally realized this weekend that the reason they're asking is because of the cover stock used on those specific trade paperbacks. If the trade paperback has a flat, glossy cover, they ignore the art, the type and the cover design. If it's flat gloss, with no foil, no embossing, no textures, they are now assuming that the book is self-published; they won't even pick it up.

The informative part is that it shows how "real" publishers might manage to find a new business model in a world where they have lost the distribution advantage. Essentially readers trust publishers to do the gatekeeping thing of producing only the good well written books and not the crud ones. And perhaps more specifically "good" as meaning "the ones this particular reader likes".

One can note that successful publishers such as Mills & Boon/Harlequin and Baen have very distinctive covers and that both frequently see their covers mocked for being tacky etc. But the standout bit is definitely important because it allows the potential purchaser to concentrate on the books that are of interest to him/her and ignore the not so good ones.

We also note that for the most part small press and "self-published" works are considered to be of poorer quality that those printed by the bigger houses. And that readers are quite strict about filtering out the poor quality choices.