A little over a year ago I was thinking about the Kindle and e-books, and what these developments meant for books, and publishing. Book lovers hated the device, people leaning towards the gadget side of things thought it was neat. It would either kill publishing or save it—who knew for sure? But the thing that polarized me was the question of the book cover. I couldn't decide what was worse, the poor quality of covers when the e-books included them, or the fact that most e-books on the Kindle and other e-ink based readers didn't bother with them at all.
Around the time I was reading up on e-books, the rumors of an Apple e-reader began to make the rounds (or resurface again) and that caught my attention. The idea of a tablet based e-reader offered the possibilities beyond merely reproducing the text of the book—it could have audio, and web links, and possibly embedded video.
So why can’t these book covers move? Essentially a cover is an image and a title. But it could be a short film, or animation, abstract or narrative. It could have music or creepy noises. It could also be a portal with links to other information, like a publisher’s backlist, or more information about the subject. It could do anything you never would think a cover could do.
I went from assuming the cover might someday disappear completely, to believing that it could take on a whole new life.
I developed some samples of what a digital book cover could look like, mainly to shop around to the publishing industry, but have decided that the time is right to just go ahead and present them publicly. Take a look and see if you agree.
Tintin and The Secret of Literature—Tom McCarthy
This is an actual cover I designed for the American version of a British book, by the outstanding author Tom McCarthy, for Counterpoint in 2008. With this, I wanted to take a cover with minimal but interesting elements, and make it come to life through motion. All of the animated parts were hand drawn by me in the traditional frame animation style and then digitally brought to life by Joel Knudson. This was an experiment to see just how much a digital book cover can convey in the shortest time possible, and whether it can be something that can stand up to repeated viewings.
Smilla's Sense of Snow—Peter Høeg
This is the first cover I produced and I wanted to challenge myself with it. To test the commercial viability of this new format I knew it should include many of the elements that generally, I never want to deal with as a designer. I was trying to implement all the possible things that could go on a cover from a marketing and promotional standpoint while still maintaining a striking visual identity that was related to the story within. As it is, it runs a little longer than it should, about 36 seconds. I started out assuming 30 seconds would be on the short end of the scale, but I'm now convinced the 25 should be the limit.
Wake Up Sir!—Jonathan Ames
I really enjoyed this book by Jonathan Ames, and have loved the Paul Sahre designed cover ever since I first saw it in a bookstore. I was considering adapting existing covers to do as digital book covers I immediately decided on Wake Up Sir. With Sahre's striking design, and Ames's story of an alcoholic writer and his Wodehouse-inspired butler "Jeeves" the music for this piece hit me right away—the theme from Masterpiece Theatre, or as it's actually called "First Suite in D" by Jean-Joseph Mouret. With this combination of the original cover's style, and the nature of the story, the music seemed to be a perfect fit.
I hope you liked these samples, and see the potential of what they represent. It is my sincere belief that this is an idea that can change, in some small way, how e-books are experienced. Digital book covers like these, are a canvas for ideas—both artistic, and commercial. Books, and publishing is changing, and with that change is an opportunity to make new things.
So lets get started.