There’s an interesting article discussing book covers in a digital age over on The Literary Platform, sparked by the release of the Odyssey Editions ebooks from the likes of Amis, Bellow, Nabokov, Rushdie et al which also triggered an apoplectic response from said writers’ publisher, Random House. While it will be interesting to see the outcome of the dispute between Random House and Odyssey over the ebook rights to some of the biggest names in literature, it was the covers of the titles that really caught my eye.

Mailer Odyssey Edition coverBurroughs Odyssey Edition cover

In the Literary Platform article they explore the relevance of book covers to digital copies and argue that ‘cover art only sells physical books.’ The fact that many of these covers are reduced to low res images on various book/ebook stores helps support this. I certainly can’t think of any book I have ordered from amazon because the cover appealed, which does happen in a bricks and mortar store, and it pains me to see book covers reduced to grainy black and white on my ereader screen.

Odyssey’s answer is to make the covers typographic, with the story opening on the cover. As The Literary Platfrom explains, these covers are then ‘not covers in any traditional sense: they have nothing to cover. They are icons. Signifiers. And more crucially, they’re not there to sell the book directly; they are marketing material separated from the point-of-sale.’ Certainly for ebooks these work well and I am sure will look a damn sight better on an e-Ink screen that more conventional covers.

The whole thing certainly gives me food for thought regarding possible covers for any ebooks I might decide to produce via Smashwords or some similar site.

How about you? Do ebooks need covers at all?