E-Books and E-Covers

For all we were taught, as wide eyed young readers, to never judge a book by its cover, it’s actually not a bad strategy. Just as film trailers are tailored to their intended audiences, so is the design of a book — inside and out — intended to reflect what sort of book it is. (In bookstores it’s not hard to tell what section you’re in just by looking at the colors of the spines: black and purple for mystery, pinks and lavenders for romance, and sensible creams and off whites in literary fiction.) So why, Wired’s Priya Ganapati asks today, do e-books scream “Dull!”

They blame it on the growing pains of any new technology, likening it to the horrorshow that was the first decade we spent with the internet. (Remember animated gifs? Yikes!) They also blame Amazon’s stubborn insistence on using their proprietary file format, .mobi, which allows for nearly no creative design. For Ganapati, this makes reading depressing:

After about four hours of flipping through blocks of grey text I found myself feeling strangely melancholic. It couldn’t have been the lack of sunshine. Moving from one book to another, while easy, didn’t help: I was still staring at the same font, the same gray background and the same basic layout.

E-books would sell better if they were as sexy as iPhone apps — and Amazon is having trouble convincing users to pay more — but even typographic variety, or a color Kindle, wouldn’t solve Ganapati’s melancholy. The words are still just text on a screen, and will always lack the individuality of different books. E-books feel as disposable as blog entries, and this is the real hurdle facing the technology.

On the subject of design, I wanted to point out I Was a Bronze Age Boy. Mark Justice posts three or four old pulp covers daily — detective stories, space exploration, westerns — and each one is an argument for color screens on e-book readers.

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