The eBook Cover Scandal

Who can deny that a good cover plays a part in the overall book buying and even reading experience?

I’ve done several posts about the necessity for direct publishers to pay attention to good cover design. After all, just because a book is electronic doesn’t mean people won’t be attracted to — or repelled by — its cover.

One of the few things I haven’t complained about with print publishing is the design of book covers. This is because it’s an art that stretches back for decades and there have been some seriously great covers (see The Book Design blog for some samples).

There is even a science to book covers!

But with print publishing turning to eBooks, all of that learning is being flushed down the eToilet.

I submit these exhibits as proof. They were ePub eBook loans from the New York Public Library. If these reflect what eBook purchasers get, there’s trouble ahead!

American Rust, A Novel by Philipp Meyer; Publisher: Random House Publishing Group; Imprint: Spiegel & Grau

The print cover:

Cover000b

The eBook cover:

eCover000

Black Boy by Richard Wright; Publisher: HarperCollins; Imprint: HarperCollins e-books

The print cover:

Cover002b

The eBook cover:

eCover002

Burn by Sean Doolittle; Publisher: Dell Publishing; Imprint:Dell

The print cover:

Cover003b

The eBook cover:

eCover003

Business Stripped Bare, Adventures of a Global Entrepreneur by Richard Branson; Publisher: Random House Publishing Group; Imprint: Virgin Digital

The print cover:

Cover004b

The eBook cover:

eCover004

Fault Line, A Novel by Barry Eisler; Publisher: Random House Publishing Group; Imprint: Ballantine Books

The print cover:

Cover005b

The eBook cover:

eCover005

Gang Leader for a Day, A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets by Sudhir Venkatesh; Publisher: Penguin Group USA, Inc.; Imprint: The Penguin Press

The print cover:

Cover006b

The eBook title page (yes, this one does not have a cover!):

eCover006

Lincoln Unmasked, What You’re Not Supposed to Know About Dishonest Abe by Thomas DiLorenzo; Publisher: Crown Publishing Group; Imprint: Three Rivers Press

The print cover:

Cover007b

The eBook cover:

eCover007

The Civil War, The complete text of the bestselling narrative history of the Civil War–based on the celebrated PBS television series by Geoffrey C. Ward, Kenneth Burns; Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group; Imprint: Vintage

The print cover:

Cover009b

The eBook cover:

eCover009

The Real Deadwood, True Life Histories of Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, Outlaw Towns, and Other Characters of the Lawless West by John Ames; Publisher: Penguin USA, Inc.; Imprint: Chamberlain Bros.

The print cover:

Cover010b

The eBook title page (another one that doesn’t have a cover!):

eCover010

I picked these eBooks because they were of interest to me.

Some of you at this point might be saying, “Well, these are generic covers because these are library copies.” Then explain these:

Amazing Tales for Making Men Out of Boys by Neil Oliver; Publisher: HarperCollins; Imprint: HarperCollins e-books

The print cover:

Cover001b

The eBook cover:

eCover001

Lowboy by John Wray; Publisher: Canongate Books

The print cover:

Cover008b

The eBook cover:

eCover008

If they can do that, why not everyone else?

And understand this too: An argument cannot be made that the electronic rights for the covers haven’t been secured. Because the print versions I’m showing are displayed electronically in the NYPL catalog (OverDrive system)!

I consider this to be a scandal. It’s tantamount to bait-and-switch and I foresee the day of many eBook buyer complaints and perhaps even inquiries by State Attorneys General.

And it’s another reason why I think the entire Axis of E will fail.

Prior posts elsewhere about covers:

The Topic Of Covers … Again!
eBooks: The Issue Of Covers, Again
Free eBook: Password Incorrect
Book Covers: Murder
Book Cover: What?!
eBooks: More About Covers
eBooks: A Cover Test
They Don’t Write These Anymore

12 Responses to The eBook Cover Scandal

  1. Tim Coronel says:

    why do you assume that a library catalogue that displays print book covers is equivalent to the ebook version of that same book having equivalent rights for the same cover design? Just as the same (print) book will have a different cover in different territories (and be published by different publishers), why wouldn't ebooks look different to their print cousins? (Not that I disagree that those ebook 'covers' you've picked are drab and disappointing).

  2. GKiely says:

    The situation is probably that the publisher did not clear the rights for the cover design (and the art within it) at the time of the print publication. Doing so after the fact is time-consuming and would most likely cost money. Neither of these things are positives from the perspective of the publisher. You're right to think that the e-book and the print book should look the same but this is not at all surprising. As the market increases for these books, you can be sure that the covers will be the same. For older (even "not that old") titles, you should not be surprised to see templated covers.

  3. Clipping Images says:

    Thanks for holding the light in front. Its really a necessary issue to be looked at :)

  4. John Lockwood says:

    I agree with your post in that the examples you show are very disappointing. In some cases, it looks like either the publishers are trying to use a standard design (for multiple titles) or are trying to excessively push their own branding over the original artwork.

    However one possible justification for the publishers is down to technology. Most of the current eBook readers (e.g. the Kindle) have a type of screen that certainly cannot do colour, and may not even do greyscale very well (the Kindle is not available in the UK yet). Therefore using a cover image 'optimised' for black&white or a limited number of greys may work better.

    There are some rumours that Apple's alleged new Tablet might become a Kindle killer, and would unlike the Kindle be colour. Currently on the iPhone you have to use a variety of applications to read eBooks or periodicals and I feel this is a mistake by Apple. Apple should instead come out with their own electronic publication reader (books, newspapers, etc.) and as they are renowned for, produce a consistent beautiful interface with full colour, illustrations (where appropriate), and full typographical features (kerning, ligatures, etc.).

    The current inconsistent and sometimes mediocre selection of reader apps is a bad idea. You don't have multiple music players, or podcast players, or video players on the iPod/iPhone, and I equally don't see why you should have multiple reader applications either.

    Note: Even with an Apple reader application, the publications would still be able to charge for their content.

  5. Anonymous says:

    OMG Thank you!!!! Agree as this is very annoying. –keishon

  6. Mike Cane says:

    >>>why do you assume that a library catalogue that displays print book covers is equivalent to the ebook version of that same book having equivalent rights for the same cover design?

    @Tim: But this issue exists for eBookstore listings too. People should not be shown one thing and wind up getting something different (in this case, something less!).

    >>>The situation is probably that the publisher did not clear the rights for the cover design (and the art within it) at the time of the print publication.

    @GKiely: It's not like publishers haven't known about eBooks. This would be like saying car manufacturers didn't know catalytic converters were being mandated by law. How much warning time do publishers need?

    >>>Therefore using a cover image 'optimised' for black&white or a limited number of greys may work better.

    @John: I've shown what covers converted to gray look like here:

    eBooks: More About Covers

    Note that eBook samples from major publishers that Sony installs on the Reader have a proper cover that often is identical to the print one.

  7. Partners in Grime says:

    Some of the eBook covers are brutal!

  8. Sandy Naidu says:

    Great examples – Appreciate the effort you put in to pick the examples. eBook covers are not hard to create – quite easy and one does not have to be technical. There are many off the shelf products that can help. However many people overlook this important feature – After all I am sure that a lot of us do judge the book by the cover.

  9. nizejpodpisany says:

    Examples of good e-book cover designs will come from people, who treat e-books seriously, not like second class books.
    I wrote a post showing possibilities of cover design with e-book in mind.
    http://www.nizejpodpisany.com/2009/08/26/possibilities-of-e-book-cover-design-example/

  10. I agree! Ballantine is the worst. they do’t even try; they just use the same damn cover every time.

  11. Laird Popkin says:

    Luckily on the iPad you can add cover artwork to ePubs in iTunes, the same way that you can add album artwork to music tracks. Admittedly it is some work, but at least for me it is much nicer to browse a collection of books with meaningful, visually distinct covers rather than “brown paper bags”, so IMO it is worth spending a few minutes dragging Amazon book covers onto generic-looking ePubs.

    I don’t know whether other ePub library tools (Calibre, etc.) can do the same.

  12. Ringo says:

    There is a work around, though I agree that it shouldn’t be needed and the publishers should do their job properly in the first place by either getting the rights to the print cover, or have a designer make a nice new one for the e-book edition.

    I use Calibre for managing all my e-books. Calibre does not support DRM infestested ePub books, so if I buy one of those I simply begin by removing the DRM (it’s legal where I live for personal use…though it’s apparently not in the USA). Then I can have Calibre fetch meta data and covers from a number of different sources, including Amazon. Sometimes it even finds several different covers and I can pick the one I like the most.

    I wish publishers would begin to understand that DRM doesn’t work. It only punishes those who payed legally for the books in the first place. For a pirate, breaking the DRM (be it Apple’s, Adobe’s or Amazon’s) only takes moments, and then they can upload it to all their pirate friends. To them it really doesn’t make a difference.

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