Publishers are scrambling (and who can blame them?) to get ebooks out. Since bookstores have been closed (I’d classify them as essential businesses, in an ideal world), they need to get “product” to customers. Still, I’m thinking back to my recent interview with an undergraduate about Holy Horror. She told me the cover really generated interest as she walked around school with it. (This was before the pandemic.) That’s old school book advertising. Although I do learn about lots of books online, I very, very seldom buy ebooks. It seems like buying air to me, and I wonder if publishers are missing out on the free advertising of the person carrying an interesting book around.
Back before the pandemic I’d noticed how just about everybody was walking around with that awkwardly proud “I’ve got a cup of Starbucks in my hand” look. It was everywhere. No matter where I went, for there was free travel in those days, people had only one hand free, showing the world their craft coffee. If only it were so cool to be seen carrying books! I stopped commuting about two years ago, for all practical purposes. When I did get on a bus, however, I always had a book in my hand. Did publishers see any bumps from curious New Jerseyans who saw the strange cover of the weird book I happened to be reading at the time? You never got a seat to yourself on New Jersey Transit, and I know I was always curious about other readers (there weren’t many). I hardly have the profile to define “cool” and “some guy on the bus” probably doesn’t cut it for many people, but still, the thought of someone curious about a book because of the cover is very compelling.
Book covers are artworks. At least some of them are. I recall the ennui I felt approaching some academic books with just words on cloth for the cover. (I later found out the cloth is usually paper made to look like cloth—there are layers in everything.) It was difficult to muster the energy to open the book because you knew there would likely be hard slogging ahead. That’s why I decided to stop writing academic books. The next trick is to find nonacademic publishers so that prices in the range of real readers might be offered. If people opt for the ebook version, how will others see it? And viruses only last on paper for about a day. That’s a quarantine I can live with.
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