Judging a Book by Its Cover
Last week we wrote about handselling books and the power of recommendations--from a bookseller, from a friend, from book reviews. Those are proactive means of promoting a book, and are powerful, but there is another way to "handsell" a book, one that is passive. Maybe it could be called secondary advertising. It's selling by book cover.
On an airplane, do you notice what people are reading? Do you surreptitiously contort a bit to see a cover? Do you think about the (usually) men who are reading genre thrillers quite openly while women seem to hide romances? Same thing on the bus or subway or in cafes at lunchtime. Checking out book covers brings many pleasures; it also subtly imprints a book in your mind. After you've seen 12 people reading American Dervish or The Rook, you think, hmmm... maybe you'd better check it out. If two or three people on the bus are reading Pity the Billionaire, your political leanings are validated (at least for one zone). Or you spot people reading the latest Michael Connelly, The Drop, and you realize that one of your favorite authors has a new book out. And it's always interesting to check out someone's bookshelves or to casually place a very impressive title on your own coffee table (don't forget a bookmark about halfway through).
With e-books, there are no book covers. There's no tipping point reached by cover art, no visual validation of your own reading tastes. What will replace this passive advertising? Is it even a worry? A recent survey found a plateauing of e-book reader adoption (December sales notwithstanding)--52% of readers say they are "not at all likely" to buy an e-reader; additionally, e-reader owners buy almost as many printed books as e-books. Good news for people who like cover art, for publishers who devote so much time and money to cover art, and for those of us who like to see what others are reading (or proclaim our own good taste). There are many good reasons to use e-books, but don't forget--it's really hard for authors to sign them. --Marilyn Dahl, book review editor, Shelf Awareness