Books and Branding

Books, like any other product, are affected by the perception people have of it. This perception is influenced by how it is physically presented, how much it costs, and reviews. The statement “Books don’t have brands as such. Customers pick up a book because of the front cover, and buy a book because of what’s in the back cover,” will be analysed against the aforementioned criteria. This essay will also look into other aspects like where the book is sold, like online and offline, and the format, like e-book and print book, influences purchases. This essay will discuss how the statement’s stance on books not being brands is incorrect as the branding power of authors and publishing houses are often used to promote purchases. Furthermore the idea that customers are attracted to a book simply because of its cover is only half right, while eye attracting covers do encourage more attention; the title of a book is just as important. The statement’s stance on that the back cover of a book is what gets people to purchase it is again only half right, as people are influenced by the type of genres they like to read and the opinions of other people.

The sale of a book depends on a number of factors. In the past books were mostly confined to book stores, but in today’s world they are offered for sale in both the offline or print book and online or electronic book platforms. These two different selling platforms greatly affect how consumers view and purchase books. In a book store a person can physically view a book and examine it, while online the book can only be presented as a 2D image, some images being literally the size of a person’s thumbnail. While the statement might be only half correct when relating to print books, it is in the online world that a book’s front cover becomes less important and other factors take over.

One online article states that for print books a consumer will spend on average around eight seconds looking at the front cover of a book and another 15 seconds studying the back before deciding if they want to purchase it5. While for electronic books, Amazon being given as an example, the decision time is reduced even further5. Furthermore the article also details that Literary Services Inc., a literary agent service, has a three second rule, which is if a cover doesn’t grab their attention in three seconds then it is ignored5. This article appears to support the statement about book covers resulting in sales, as cover draws in the consumer. But this statement ignores the fact that there is a small minority of people that do not care for the presentation of a book cover. In an online discussion on Goodreads asking the question, ‘Do you judge a book by its cover?’, showed varied responses. Some were in consensus with the statement, while others were not and some were a combination. One person, Julie, mentioned that she background was artistic so a good book cover was important, but mentioned that it was reviews in conjunction with the blurb that convinced her to buy6. Another called Lauren says that in a book store a good cover might pull them in, but they buy a book based upon the recommendations from friends6. Jenny mentions that book covers only grab her attention when in a book store, but when she is shopping on her Nook the covers have no influence as the ratings a book has is more important6. Other people like Kaylabookworm22 do not care for a book cover, as the blurb on the back gives a sneak peek inside the book6. While some people are only slightly influenced by the cover of a book, others can be significantly influenced. But other factors like the title, reviews, author preference and whether the book is online or not have an influence on a book buyer.

In what appears to be the vast majority of responses to the Goodreads question, people would get the impression that a book’s cover is the most important thing in the decision to buy a book. But there are multiple different perspectives and the book cover influence has varying degrees of success on people. According to another article the description of a book is the most important factor and many people read that first7. This is seen in the some of the responses from the Goodreads discussion. Christen states that she usually reads the summary of a book first6 before deciding if it is worth buying. The further show that there are some situations where book covers do not have an effect on the buyer is by looking at examples where multiple different books have the same covers. One article refers to these types of covers as tombstone covers, covers that no one could think of an image, symbol or metaphor that would capture the essence of the book8. Penguin Classics and Text Classics are prime examples. Their books have identical covers, Penguin having the distinctive orange covers and Text having the just as distinctive yellow. Because of these identical covers readers would have to ignore them and focus on other things like the title, author and limited synopsis.

When books are packaged like this, it could be argued that the publishing houses that have done this are relying on book buyers to have some knowledge of the marketed books or have a publishing house brand loyalty. For example the orange Penguin Classic books have been around the market place for a while now and readers will recognise at least some of the titles on offer. On the other hand the Text publishing house has not been around for as long and their titles on offer are not as well known. But due to the collective cover images buyers would look at one books and associate another with it. For the buyers and readers of Penguin and Text books, the brand of the publishing house may not even factor in when purchasing to book. This is especially so when dealing with electronic books.

In terms of electronic books that are often read on devices such as Kindle, covers are seldom viewed. The only time a cover will be used in relation to these books would be when consumers are looking at a screen prior to purchase. In these situations readers are not necessarily interested in the covers of books because they will not be consuming them. It is the price of an e-book which interests buyers. Buyers are primarily after the story behind the cover. According to an article in Forbes half of the books sold on Amazon.com were pre-planned purchases1, meaning that people already knew what they were looking for and therefore not affected by the appearance of the book cover. Even when online book purchases are not pre-planned, buyers are not entirely drawn in by a front cover as the lower price over rides it. Often the images of front covers are reduced to miniature versions of themselves and pooled in with tens and hundreds of others. In the event of being selected, a book’s details page is often presented with the book’s image pushed to the left side and other information like story description, reviews, ratings, price, links to similar books, shipping and packaging information take up the majority of the screen. This can be seen in any Amazon.com product page, with books not being any different. An example being a product page for Slated by Teri Terry3. The book cover image is not the absolute focus of the product.

But on the other hand the production and presentation of a book cover does have an effect on how people receive it. In the past there used to be vast differences between the covers of self-published and traditional published books. The most obvious being the book covers. Self-publishers did not have access to the skills of graphic designers and this resulted in their book covers appearing to be of lesser quality. One blogger and book reviewer “The Picky Girl” states that a book description is the ‘first and foremost concern’ when it concerns books, but she thinks twice before buying a book that has a bad or cheap looking cover2. She states that ‘I wonder what other areas lack quality and refinement’2. This blogger’s stance on covers is well founded, since there is a correlation between the quality of a book cover and the number of sales. On the self-publishing website Smashwords one author, RL Mathewson went from selling five to six copies of her book Playing for Keeps per day to over a thousand by simply changing the book cover2. This example highlights the importance of a good book cover, but this example also shows that in the past the cover image was not a barrier for people purchasing RL Mathewson’s book. If the cover was so important to a reader then it wouldn’t have sold any copies to begin with. Especially seeing as the book is being sold for only $0.994, making the price no barrier to the buyer. People who purchased the story before the cover change were obviously not interested in or negatively affected by the cover. Other factors like the title play a huge role in getting the attention of buyers. A few people mentioned in the Goodreads discussion that the title as a factor as influential a book cover.

Depending on the buyer and depending on the level of cover detail, the title of a book might be the thing that gets a person to buy. According to Larsen8 a book title should get readers excited about the book. A title needs to incorporate all the elements of your book but expressed emotionally in the shortest and simplest way8. As Larsen states great title will scream ‘Stop and pick me up! You can’t live without me! I’m worth twice the price! Take me home now!’8. This can be seen in the example Everything Men Know About Women, the title is enticing because it plays on gender stereotypes and it has sold 750,000 copies8. This book had no storyline for people to review or recommend, just as there is no blurb to hook people into buying it. The reason this book sold as many copies as it did was because of its title, the book itself has 120 blank pages8. While this may have worked in a print book format, it might not necessarily work as well in an e-book. But the principles in deciding what a title should be are the same.

While there are people who are influenced by the cover of a book, there are others who look at the title and genre. A group of people that often make snap judgements when it comes to cover are children. Children are heavily influenced by the artistic illustrations that feature in children’s books and they remember illustrations significantly more than anything else10. Larsen states that the children’s books which have more humorous titles sell more in comparison to ones that have straight forward titles8. He quoted the examples of Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs and The Cat Ate My Swimsuit8 as books that sold more copies. It would appear that a title is just as important as a cover. But titles alone do not sell books; the covers give an indication of what the reader should expect. Covers with female orientated imagery indicate female orientated themes just as male orientated imagery indicate male orientated subject themes, while non-gendered imagery indicate themes that do not resolve around people, like science, animal and cooking books. The genre of a book influences how the imagery is arranged and displayed. People, who are aware of this, whether consciously or subconsciously, are able to decipher what genre a book is. People who enter a bookshop or go online looking for a book in a particular genre will usually find it. But when audiences misinterpret the covers and the titles of books or even if the publishing house incorrectly assigns a particular image to a book then problems arise.

Audiences looking for a book that centres on a non-white protagonist would be forgiven if they overlooked US cover version of the award winning novel Liar by Justine Larbalestier. The mixed raced narrator is unreliable because she is a compulsive liar, and therefore her identity is not fixed, though the author describes her as black with nappy hair9. As Larbalestier puts it, covers change how people read books9. The Australian edition of the book did not show a white female like the US edition, instead the word liar was spelt out multiple times in blood. Audiences, even the author, have criticised the US cover for being misleading to what is inside the book. In another example of misleading book covers the book Syrup by Max Barry. One of the cover editions features a 1990’s styled romantic couple in an affectionate pose, but the book is not a romance. It is a narrative revolves around a man trying to market and sell a new beverage with the name Fukk. Previous editions of the book featured Coca-Cola styled imagery, which is more appropriate because they were more relevant to the book’s subject matter. This revolves around the idea that images communicate more information than a title or words and depending on the type of cover a reader comes across first, it will shape their opinions what they perceive to be correct.

Branding can offer publishing houses a lot of income, which is appealing because the publishing industry as a whole does not make a lot of money. By looking at the economic power of branding one would say that it works, but it depends on the way you brand and market a book. Different types of branding result in different types of marketing. Branding can relate to the author’s public influence. It might have to do with the publishing house, as they might only deal with certain types of subject matter or it might be connected with medium cross overs like movie and TV series. Another type of branding where elements of a book is transferred into creating toys for children. A few examples of branding is shown in the article by Parker. Talking about the children’ book Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs published in1982, Parker describes how when the movie came out several more books followed11. One of the books was a ‘junior novelization’ of the novel based on the movie, which was based on the book11. This is similar to what happened to the 1985 children’s book The Polar Express, when made into a movie a picture book followed11. When the movie Up opened in cinemas book stores already had on display eight books surrounding the film11. There was a picture book, chapter book about the character Russell, another about the dog, and a sticker book11. Similar things have happened to other books like Madeline, Peter Rabbit, Olivia and Clifford, the characters have been made into toys, clothing, jewellery and bedding11. Publishing houses even rely on the celebrity status of authors to sell books. Some examples are Madonna’s multiple books, which some have debut within the top 10 of New York Times Best Seller list, her children’s book The English Roses has sold of half a million copies14, Katie Price’s multiple bestselling books written by ghost writers, some of which have been nominated for awards12 and Hilary Duff’s New York Times Best Seller trilogy of books13. This leads to JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series. The branding of these books would see children who were originally readers be turned into consumers11. Publishing houses will often use the success of previous bestselling authors to create interest in a new book. Whether it be a promotional review quote for an unrelated book or by telling the readers that this book was written by the person who wrote that other book. Another thing that should entice people is praise from awards and institutions. But this does not necessarily get a reader to buy the book. A perfect example of this occurring is JK Rowling’s latest book The Cuckoo’s Calling. Being a detective novel it is completely different to her other known works, Harry Potter and TheCasual Vacancy. Rowling originally published the book under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith15. Despite receiving acclaim from other authors, critics and begin described as a ‘stellar debut’ by Publisher’s Weekly and ‘the debut of the month’ by Library Journal, the book is estimated to have sold only 500 to 1500 copies15. After Rowling’s identity was revealed book sales increased 4000% and 140,000 extra books were printed to meet demand15. This case people who bought Rowling’s latest book were not interested in the cover, nor the back. They bought her book based on her celebrity status and image.

While the status or brand of an author influences sales, for authors who do not have a recognisable name, author branding does not work. In these types of situations publishing houses can often try and use their limited branding capabilities to sell books. Publishing houses, as a company are not known for their brands like other commercial companies, but this does not mean people do not recognise where a book has been published. Older established publishing houses have a more dominate market place position because they have existed for longer and people have become accustomed to them. While new and smaller publishing companies are still trying to get a hold in the market place. This situation leads to the problem of long time book buyers preferring books published by established publishing houses as they know more about the company and what type of books they publish. People who have a preference for books published by one publishing house will usually stick to their habits. In this situation the buyers are not particularly interested in the front cover of a book.

By looking at the types of branding power authors and publishing houses have it can be reasoned that the statement “Books don’t have brands as such. Customers pick up a book because of the front cover, and buy a book because of what’s in the back cover,” is incorrect as there are some types of book branding. The branding that crosses into commercialisation is another aspect of how the statement is partially incorrect. Children are turned from readers into consumers through the creation of toys, bedding and novelisation of the movies that were originally books to begin with. However when talking about books that have not been taken up by the commercialisation process the fact remains that front covers do have an influence on people and this can override the issues of banding. Other things that influence a reader to pick up a book is the title, especially in children’s books where funny titles are preferred over straight forward ones. In terms of the physical representation of books the platform that they are viewed on has an effect. E-books do not fit the statement’s stance as online buyers are not able to hold the books but seeing as though most purchases are pre-planned readers do not need to see front cover as they have already made up their mind on what they are going to buy. For people that have not decided on their purchases, covers do not have much of an effect on them because the covers are literally the size of a thumbnail. Other factors such as reviews, ratings and word-of-mouth recommendations spur purchases. For print books the covers are more important, as readers often view them in a bookshop and they have to compete with others. The statement is often correct in this situation as once a person has picked up a book they are visually interested in they either read the synopsis on the back or read sections of the inside book. Problems can occur when the front covers do not match up to narrative inside the book. This can be seen in the examples of Liar by Larbalestier and Syrup by Barry, audiences will be disappointed as the books they have picked up do not correlate with the expected narrative.

References

[1] Charman-Anderson. Forbes. Half of Amazon Book Sales are Planned Purchases [Internet]. 2013 [cited 2013 Oct 20]. Available from: http://www.forbes.com/sites/suwcharmananderson/2013/02/20/half-of-amazon-book- sales-are-planned-purchases/

[2] Long, TG. IndieReader. Yes, We Really Do Judge Books By Their Covers [internet]. 2013 [cited 2013 Oct 20]. Available from: http://indiereader.com/2013/05/yes-we-really-do- judge-books-by-their-covers/

[3] Amazon.com. Slated by Teri Terry [internet]. 2013 [cited 2013 Oct 22]. Available from: http://www.amazon.com/Slated-Teri-Terry/dp/0142425036/ref=sr_1_1? s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1382396834&sr=1-1&keywords=slated+teri+terry

[4] Smashwords. Playing for Keeps [internet]. 2011. [cited 2013 Oct 22]. Available from: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/56698

[5] Sansevieri P.C. The Huffington Post. 8 Mistakes That Will Absolutely Kill Your Book [internet]. 2011. [cited 2013 Oct 22]. Available from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/penny-c-sansevieri/8-mistakes-that-will- abso_b_1017230.html

[6] Goodreads. Do You Judge A Book By Its Cover [internet]. 2012. [cited 2013 Oct 22]. Available from: http://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/1100445-do-you-judge-a- book-by-its-cover

[7] The Journal Pulp. A Sucker For Good Packaging: Book Cover And Descriptions [internet]. 2013. [cited 2013 Oct 22]. Available from: http://journalpulp.com/2013/01/09/a-sucker-for-good-packaging-book-covers-and- descriptions/

[8] Larsen M. The Vocabula Review. In Search of Your Book’s Most Powerful Sales Tool: Your Title [internet]. 2004. [cited 2013 Oct 22]. Available from: http://www.vocabula.com/2004/VRAPRIL04Larsen.asp

[9] Lardalestier J. Writing, Reading, Eating, Drinking, Sport. Ain’t That a Shame(updated) [internet]. 2009. [cited 2013 Oct 24]. Available from: http://justinelarbalestier.com/blog/2009/07/23/aint-that-a-shame/

[10] Graham J. The Historian. Judging a book by its cover. [internet]. 2013. [cited 2013 Oct 24]. Available from: http://issuu.com/histnovel/docs/historian_117_

[11] Parker A. World of Words. Creating Book Brands [internet]. 2009. [cited 2013 Oct 24]. Available from: http://wowlit.org/blog/2009/12/21/creating-book-brands/

[12] Wikipedia. Katie Price [internet] 2013. [cited 2013 Oct 25]. Available from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Katie_Price

[13] Wikipedia. Elixr(novel) [internet] 2013. [cited 2013 Oct 25]. Available from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elixir_%28novel%29

[14] Wikipedia. Madonna Bibliography [internet] 2013. [cited 2013 Oct 25]. Available from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madonna_bibliography

[15] Wikipedia. J.K Rowling [internet] 2013. [cited 2013 Oct 25]. Available from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._K._Rowling

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