It can be its smell, its price, the quality of its paper, its size or the author of its introduction – but, most of the time, it is the cover that sells the book. And publishers know it.
The saying that one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover might be true, but we very often do.
In terms of what will sell, it seems the outside appearance is as important as what will later be found inside. Publishers rival in imagination as they issue different copies of the same title.
The possibilities are endless. Books can be connected by theme, by author, by date or genre. It can become an existential dilemma to choose between two versions – it certainly is for me anyway.
The problem of whether to buy them all in the same edition or vary according to my whims is always another quandary. Thus, Penguin Books, celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, has released fresh series of literary classics with inventive cover designs by four of the top artists of the last century, with a common theme in the design for each decade.
Sometimes, I wonder whether the art design of the cover takes away the mystery or is misleading. The picture on the front can give such a wrong idea that we are sometimes quite disappointed.
But Penguin found a solution to that problem. The front covers left blank for the reader to express his own experience of the book using pencil and brush are a brilliant idea. After all, the postmodernists did say that it was for the reader to “create” the piece of writing as he encounters it and to engage with it actively.
However, do not think that I am complaining about this plethora of designs and colours. The book as an object has always been a work of art in itself: we can only hope that artists’ and publishers’ imaginations don’t dwindle, as it is so satisfying to glance through the rainbow of titles on our bookshelves.