Dazzling, blocky book covers designed for Amazon, Instagram

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If you’re looking for the most anticipated books of 2019, there’s a good chance your search will start with Google and end with Amazon. There’s even more chance that a book cover will always jump off the screen: Marlon James’ cover Black leopard, red wolf, its white graphic title intertwining with the twisted and jewel print of a shape-changing beast. This first book in the Booker Prize-winning author’s Dark Star trilogy, a queer afro-futuristic fantasy series, has previously been called the “African Game Of Thrones. “(Another slogan: the literary Black Panther.) He is clearly positioned by publishers and booksellers as a cultural icon, with a flamboyant cover to match.

Scroll through the top lists and other titles will appear just as strong: Pitchaya Sudbanthad’s Title Bangkok wakes up in the rain shines in gold letters on a dripping green abstraction of leaves. that of Hélène Oyeyemi Gingerbread screams bright yellow against a lightly shaded coral background, its plane smashed by a black raven grabbing a brilliant tangerine. And that of Kristen Arnett Mostly dead things features a hand-drawn crooked flamingo on a field of avocado green, with the title scribbled over it in what appears to be a big white sharpie.

None of these titles are available yet, but wherever you find them online you will likely need to pre-order on Amazon. [Ed.: Guilty.] In fact, their covers are designed to guarantee that you will. In an age when half of all book purchases in the United States are made on Amazon – and many of those on mobile – the first job of a book cover, after making a gesture on the content inside , is to look great in miniature. This means that where the small details once thrived, the splash impressions took over, founding a text strong enough to be deciphered on screens ranging from medium to lowercase.

If books have design eras, we are in an era of wallpaper and bold text. We have to thank the Internet – and not just the interface, but the economy that has grown around it. From leather-bound volumes of old paperbacks to the mass market, book covers were never designed in a vacuum. Their presentation had everything to do with how books were made, where and how and to whom they were sold. And when you look at the book covers right now, what you’ll see in return, bold and dazzling, is a highly competitive marketing landscape dominated by online retail, social media and their oddly symbiotic rival, the independent bookstore. reborn.

From the start of printing, the covers have reflected the aesthetics and technologies of their time. The 1950s, for example, saw the debut of the Penguin classic vertical grid convention in the design of paperbacks, in conjunction with the new popularity of hardcover books. In the 1960s, the advent of the Polaroid introduced realistic images on the cover of the book, and the 70s brought free form design and psychedelic.

Over the next 20 years, as Gregg Kulick, artistic director at Little, Brown, recalls, the focus shifted to more complex accolades. “If you look at the AIGA 50 90s design competition winners, ”says Kulick,“ the guy is so much smaller and trickier because people’s interface with a book was in a bookstore. And then came the web. “Now you see more of a large print interaction with a texture behind it, because that’s what plays out on a small thumbnail on the internet. “

Today’s market pressures extend far beyond the visible size reduction of the product. Since 2013, two things have happened in publishing: sales of printed books have increased by almost 11%, and at the same time, the industry has lost about a billion dollars in revenue, thanks to the price undercutting of Amazon’s books. This leaves publishers with a killer combination of higher stakes and fewer resources, which in turn leads to safer choices. “People are taking a lot less risk than before,” says Kulick. They go with designs that they know will work. Hence our current trend.

It has also never been so difficult to know exactly what Is work in book marketing. Since publishers don’t sell directly to consumers, but instead route copies through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and independent bookstores, they aren’t able to collect much data on buying habits. Amazon, for example, only shares daily sales numbers for titles, a raw metric at best.

Of course, Amazon leverages its own data extensively, refining search algorithms that are opaque to readers and publishers. (Its expansion into physical retail is widely seen as another tool for collecting data.) And on its own proprietary reading device, the Kindle (another data treasure), the cover is almost out of print. importance.

Left with blunt tools and fuzzy math, marketing and book design departments resort to instinct and search for ways to produce the most visible proof of concept: advertising. And where do we go for advertising in this age of technological disruption? Social media.

Books designed to look great on digital screens also look great on social media. Let’s go back for a moment to our big publicity avatar, Marlon James. Black leopard, red wolf Publisher Riverhead Books has such a pristine Instagram account, so archetypal of contemporary design, that you’d think his jackets were all designed explicitly to sit there and rack up likes – likes that ideally turn into sales.

“Instagram is now a major tool for generating excitement that we used to see in print magazines,” says Emma Straub, author at Riverhead Publishing and owner of Brooklyn Books Are Magic.

She of course refers to the cafe au lait-laden still lifes that influencers post to brag about receiving a copy of a book ahead of time, or the clever arrangements they use to signify literate lifestyles laid out in flashy colors.

A week before its release, Black leopard, red wolf already appears on Instagram in popular poses – on top of a specter of pebbles, nestled in the sheets next to fuzzy dogs, and perched next to a range of frothy drinks, building name recognition among fantasy enthusiasts before it goes on sale.

It’s a classic marketing rule: the more points of contact a potential reader has with a particular book – the more cover they see published by an account they trust – the more likely they are to buy. Consider a fairly recent Instagram success. “Alex Chee How to write an autobiographical novel is a book that people have photos of so many times that word of mouth has become word of mouth, ”says Straub. “Not only would someone come in and say, ‘I’ve heard of this book,’ but they would know what it looks like.”

In a marriage of irony and logic, a book that appears in a filtered miniature Instagram still life can declare its presence just as loudly across the room, especially in the independent bookstore boutique environment. modern. In the wake of Barnes & Noble’s decline, as a certain type of consumer has become a local and IRL fetishist, independent bookstores have experienced a surprising resurgence. Their ranks increased 35% between 2009 and 2015, according to the American Booksellers Association, enriching the United States with more than 2,300 independent bookstores today.

Within their communities, both in person and online, these stores function as the ultimate literary influencers, providing engaging space and expert advice. They also, more often than not, recreate the idiosyncratic touches – the warm flourishes and nostalgic signage – of social media visually. Inevitably, customers are as likely to photograph the shelves as they are to read what’s on them. Who could resist capturing this organized analog utopia?

So we find ourselves in the modern recursive world of book selling, tumbling into an endless loop from physical to digital and back again. As confusing as this loop can be, it’s an apt summary of this moment in conception.

Cover design by Grace Han.

People love the way things are on the Internet: idealized, controlled, isolated from the chaos of reality. So why shouldn’t our everyday items – and especially our books, where we’ve always turned to get away from it all – shouldn’t make us feel the same in person? Helen Yentus, the creative director of Riverhead responsible for most of the covers mentioned here, says today’s cover needs to be ambidextrous. “We have to make sure that what we’re making works equally well in both contexts,” she says. “If you miss the details you still get an interesting and compelling visual, but if you take a closer look, the details are there.”

In fact, we may now be in the second wave of Internet book design. This year’s designs are more colorful than the simple geometries of, say, RO Kwon The arsonists or at Meg Wolitzer Female persuasion. They also double the interaction between text and image, breaking the plane of the text in a way that can only be fully appreciated through physical contact. On the rich matte cover of Black leopard, red wolf, one of the shapeshifter’s eyes goes through the second oh, and a greenhouse comes out from under the K. The letters in Bangkok wakes up in the rain are superimposed by the stylized drops falling on the woody background of the blanket. These details sound like rewards for those who commit to reading on paper; Easter eggs hidden throughout the bookstore.

The pleasure of the in-person experience does not change the reality that most people will continue to buy their books online. But as our physical and digital worlds converge, books – or at least their covers – find a way to overlap the two. You can have your eye candy and read it too.



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