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Digital Consumers Like Pictures Too


These images are the covers to ebooks from Random House, Pocket, and Berkley.

I’m a big champion of ebooks, obviously, but there are all kinds of problems with ebooks from the expensive hardware to the ridiculous number of formats and DRM encryption schemes.   Those are issues that publishers may not be willing to address right now because of certain business decisions but there are quality issues with the books themselves that publishers should start addressing.

For some reason, many print publishers have this belief that readers of ebooks don’t want the color cover that print readers get.   Not only do readers of ebooks get shafted on the color cover, they don’t get back cover copy or a stepback picture.   Digital consumers like pictures too.

I’ve heard that the reason that publishers aren’t including the color cover copy is because the digital readers are black and white. Given that 50% of consumers of digital books are reading from a laptop and a significant portion are using the iPhone or iTouch, that excuse simply doesn’t fly.   When I first started buying ebooks, there were no commercial readers on the market.   It was either buying an eBookwise on the secondary market (production had been halted on those devices) or reading on my laptop. I read on my laptop.

The odd thing is that sometimes you get color covers from some publishers and other times you do not. It’s like there is no quality control in the generation of an ebook.   Take, for example, the Jill Sorenson book.   Random House won’t provide the color cover, but it does provide two other images that are in the paper book:


iTunes recognized that digital images of the albums were visual signifiers of music and bought Cover Flow technology back in 2006. iTunes allows you to manually add album covers for each individual song or for the entire album.

Epublishers know that a good cover for an ebook is just as important as a good cover for a print book yet publishers seem to think that if you’ve bought a digital book, you aren’t entitled to a cover copy.   Some programs will allow you to add a cover (like Stanza) but often you are simply stuck with whatever format and design the pubs give to you.   You’ll notice that when you browse an etailer such as Sony, Books on Board, and Sony, that they all use the original cover art instead of the bland cover art included with the ebook file.

The important thing for pubs to remember is digital consumers are not undiscerning.   We just prefer a different format.   Being on the internet doesn’t change our affinity for visual stimulation. If anything, we’ve become more accustomed to interesting graphics and interactive multi media now that we use the internet as our primary source of information.

It seems even more unreasonable to not include these images when the images are available in digital format already and because we digital readers have to endure the awful DRM, the ridiculous pricing (looking at you, St. Martin’s Press), and the lack of standards in the industry.

Step 1 for publishers in creating quality ebooks is to include the front cover copy, the back cover copy and, if there is a stepback, then a stepback.   Publishers like Harlequin, Hachette, and Avon are doing a fairly good job of providing the color cover but I want to see the back cover copy and stepbacks in the digital file as well. Can it really be that much more effort to include these files in the digital book?

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Gillian
    Sep 27, 2009 @ 07:18:34

    I know this is slightly off topic but the major thing that has bothered me about ebooks is the lack of blurb. I’m a read-aholic and buy tons of books. But when I’m deciding what to buy I read the back cover blurb and hopefully and excerpt. Once I’ve loaded 10 books on my Sony, I have a hard time deciding which to read first. Why can’t they give us some blurbage too? After the pretty cover and copyright page, can’t they include a blurb? Why have those disappeared as well?

  2. Ros
    Sep 27, 2009 @ 07:21:43

    Hmm, I only read ebooks on my laptop and I have to say, I’ve never noticed or cared about the lack of covers. I do like to see the cover and the blurb when I’m buying the ebook, on the website, but I don’t need the extra GB of memory taken up by them on my hard drive.

  3. Guy LeCharles Gonzalez
    Sep 27, 2009 @ 07:35:21

    Richard Curtis made a complementary point last weekend at the Writer’s Digest Conference, that reading on a screen comes with different expectations than the printed page, and that one of the big challenges facing ebooks in the future is that simply replicating the printed page won’t be enough. NOT replicating the fundamental elements of a printed book, though, like a color cover picture and back cover copy is just dumb and kind of lazy.

  4. Christina Morales
    Sep 27, 2009 @ 08:12:13

    I agree that ebooks should get the same kind of treatment that a regular book would get to entice a reader. There have been a few ebooks I downloaded that provided no picture on the site and when I went to look at the cover, I got the plain cover as mentioned above. A couple of times, I thought I was getting the cover as shown on the website and got the dated cover or the plain cover once downloaded.

    It’s not that I won’t or can’t enjoy the more important part of the ebook which is the story, but I would like to feel like I got what I paid for even though it is a digital download.

  5. Sandy James
    Sep 27, 2009 @ 08:34:48

    This is something small press and epubs seem to have gotten right when compared to larger houses. My ebooks are almost exactly like the paperbacks. The only things missing, as Gillian mentioned, were the blurbs.

  6. Keishon
    Sep 27, 2009 @ 08:43:05

    Yeah Mike Cane highlighted the lack of covers too and all I can say about this issue is that it’s ridiculous. I’m a reader. I want to see the original cover! Give me my cover and back copy and a sneak peek of what’s coming next.

    You should address metadata next.

  7. Lena
    Sep 27, 2009 @ 08:48:50

    Considering my dislike of covers on print books (has there ever been one in romance that wasn’t insanely cheesy and mockable?), I really don’t care if they’re on ebooks or not.

  8. Beth
    Sep 27, 2009 @ 09:10:55

    Yes, yes, yes!!!! I totally agree. Publishers – put covers, step backs and back copy into the digital files PLEASE !!!!

  9. Angie
    Sep 27, 2009 @ 09:38:14

    I find it ironic that the dinky little purse-pinched e-presses manage to put color covers on their books, while the big New York publishers are using cheap BW images or just leaving them off entirely. I really wish the bigger companies would get with the program.

    I agree about the bad cover copy too, but I want more than that — I want that back cover blurb, and maybe the excerpt on the front facing page as well, to pop up when I mouseover the file on my computer. I agree with Gillian that when you’re looking at a list of file names (even granting that I change all mine to the book’s title, assuming they don’t start out that way) it’s tough to remember what the books are about or why you bought them. Being able to mouseover from one to another to another and scan through the pop-up descriptions would make it much easier to deal with. Of course, having the file image be the book’s cover as well would be even better.


  10. tracy sharp
    Sep 27, 2009 @ 10:17:27

    Interesting post. I read ebooks off the laptop, pdf files. I usually buy off publisher’s site so I see the book cover and blurb :)

  11. Marianne McA
    Sep 27, 2009 @ 12:27:33

    Just isn’t something I want at all. If anything, I find ebook covers slightly annoying – in my head, my Sony’s cover is the cover of the book, and when I open it, I want to start on page 1, as if I had opened an actual book.
    Contrariwise, it annoys me when I read the end of a book, and I can’t flip over that last page – I’d like to be able to ‘close’ the book.

    (And completely O/T except in that it’s vaguely about covers – I came across the new penguin classics covers in Waterstones this weekend. I’m in lust.
    I have the books already, but still…)

  12. brooksse
    Sep 27, 2009 @ 12:50:39

    Sometimes I’m sorry they don’t include the cover; other times I don’t miss it. Sometimes I’m glad they included the cover; other times I wish they hadn’t. It depends on the cover, and sometimes, who is depicted on the cover.

    With some books, I find myself wanting to look at the cover occasionally while reading. Easy to do with a paperback, not so easy when they don’t include the cover with the ebook.

    Now, if they don’t include the cover and it’s one I really, really enjoy looking at, I’ll save a copy of the image on my laptop and send it to my Sony reader. Like this one…

  13. Beau
    Sep 27, 2009 @ 12:54:57

    This brings me back to the thought I had a week or so ago when one of the Sony test drivers (sorry, don’t remember who) said one of her issues with the Sony was the inability to browse the covers and blurbs to pick a book from her TBR pile.

    I have a 200+ ebook TBR virtual pile. It’s not organized and I’m not disciplined about tracking it. I have no timelines. I’m a “What do I feel like reading now?” kind of reader. They’re books that I thought looked interesting enough to purchase, but haven’t quite gotten around to reading. This is within the context of a library containing well over 1000 ebooks. Picking a book out of stanza on my ipod is likely going top be cover/blurb based. If I never get around to reading a book by a new author because I never “feel like it”, it’s unlikely that author is going to get a repeat sale.

    Why on earth would publishers imagine that this form of marketing was not as valuable as print cover and blurb marketing is? They certainly think it’s important enough to use as a marketing tool at the point of sale. As for the people who want to skip that, hyperlinks make that easy enough.

  14. carolyn crane
    Sep 27, 2009 @ 13:09:38

    Oh, I love a cover, and pictures, and step backs, and honestly, why can’t e-books have that? Even B & W pics would be nice. And I love Gillian’s comment. Blurbs to lively up the reader’s display of books!

    Remember when they started putting music videos on CDs, or how DVDs have special features? Wouldn’t it be so cool if ebooks had special features? But, ahem, back to your post. Yes! At least give us something equivalent to what print readers get.

    I download pdfs to my computer, and then to my ((beloved)) Sony ereader. So I do see a color cover at that midpoint, and it does stay in my mind, and I do enjoy it. Even a B &W would be welcome. And when I finish a book, I always love looking at the copy and pictures surrounding it, just take in the package of the book one last time.

  15. Shirley
    Sep 27, 2009 @ 14:04:25

    Jane — I totally agree with you. Maybe a quarter to a third grasp the idea and use the gray-scale image of the color cover on the Kindle edition. These render in 16 shades and look wonderful, considering the limitation. The cover sets the mood and, without snark, reminds me what kid of a scene is being set. A second point: if the publisher wants me to pay 14.00 for a book that I can neither lend or give away; I want the flippin’ cover!

  16. Jill Sorenson
    Sep 27, 2009 @ 14:24:43

    I really, really love the wave image from Crash Into Me. Even in black and white, it’s very nice. I’m glad e-readers get something to look at, if not the color cover.

    I agree that these visual details count, and are a part of the reading experience. Set the Dark on Fire doesn’t have a stepback, but there’s an interesting desert plant decal at each chapter opening. I don’t know what it’s called, but I hope the digital version has it.

  17. Susan Reader
    Sep 27, 2009 @ 15:34:57

    I read ebooks on a black-and-white Sony Reader, but I still like having a cover image unique to each book. The Bantam method is particularly annoying because all their ebooks look exactly the same.

    But browsing these comments makes it clear there are people who are annoyed with cover images too…

  18. Kerry D.
    Sep 27, 2009 @ 15:41:13

    I like pretty (or even not so pretty) covers, so I prefer it when I get the cover. (I spent a satisfactory few days using Calibre to clean up my library in anticipation of moving my readingtot an iPhone and I loved pulling in the covers and seeing what I got, especially for older books with multiple editions.)

    I really agree with people who say having the blurb would be good. My TBR is mostly electronic and some of the books have been there for ages. A title isn’t always enough to remind me of what the book is about. Having the back cover blurb easily accessibly would be fantastic. (I also hate it when paper books don’t have a blurb and that is a likely reason for me putting a book back on the shelf.)

  19. Maili
    Sep 27, 2009 @ 17:01:07


    This brings me back to the thought I had a week or so ago when one of the Sony test drivers (sorry, don't remember who) said one of her issues with the Sony was the inability to browse the covers and blurbs to pick a book from her TBR pile.


    Also, lack of a series order. Take Anne Stuart’s Ice series, for example. I recently bought digital copies of her Ice series on some people’s recommendations (I fell off the AS wagon a while ago). I still haven’t got round to reading it, because I forget which is which every time I whip out the Reader. I like reading a book series in order.

    I could tag them in order through Calibre, but it should have been already done by her publisher with metadata (which would ideally contain a book blurb, series order, title, author, etc.) and covers.

    If a blurb isn’t available, then a cover will do because it makes a good visual reminder of what it’s about. I actually prefer plain cover as it’d not influence me, but it can only work if it has a blurb with it, though.

  20. TerryS
    Sep 27, 2009 @ 18:31:02

    And yet thet still want us to pay full print book price!!

  21. Moriah Jovan
    Sep 27, 2009 @ 18:45:59


    I could tag them in order through Calibre, but it should have been already done by her publisher with metadata (which would ideally contain a book blurb, series order, title, author, etc.) and covers.

    Lack of metadata is inexcusable, IMO. I believe that metadata for digital material is the future of indexing (which is a science and an art).

    Also IMO, along with accurate and extensive metadata, illustrations and parsed references (like chapter:verse or chapter:sentence), hyperlinks (i.e., footnotes and endnotes, glossaries and maps), possibly music and animations will be the key to successful digital book adoption.

    If I had the money, I’d license every song I used to write the books to and embed them into the books. I’d hire artists to illustrate and animate, and an indexer to embed deep metadata.

  22. Castiron
    Sep 27, 2009 @ 19:24:07

    Depends on how much storage space the cover takes up. If adding the cover doubles the size of the file, I’d rather skip it and have more space for books. Blurbs or summaries, on the other hand, I’d be interested in.

  23. silvia
    Sep 27, 2009 @ 19:33:31

    hmmmm. Well, with e-books perhaps I’d instead go with the view that ‘If you can’t show something nice, don’t show anything at all’. I’d definitely LOVE to see the covers, if they’re lovely. And honestly I’d rather go with zero covers for any book instead of having some great books tainted by super lame covers.

    But I think most people would agree that many e-book romance & erotica covers are… not good. Plenty are very nice, but. you know…

    And, frankly, the publishers should know which covers are attractive and which are not — they have eyes! Ignore pride and all that junk, and admit when there just wasn’t the budget to produce something that wasn’t cheesy and/or absolute photoshop fail.

    If they need the hideous covers on the puchase sites, okay, (though I’m not sure I agree) but I’d rather have them excluded from the actual file I paid for. Give me and the poor author that amount of respect.

  24. Azure
    Sep 28, 2009 @ 06:53:44

    @Castiron: I use Calibre to add covers to books that the publisher decided didn’t need them, and on average, the covers are maybe around 50 KB, so not a noticeable addition to the size of the file.

    Also–one thing I like about the newest edition of Calibre is that it allows you to add a blurb–and the blurb will appear at the beginning of the book. This is especially handy for my mother, who lamented the lack of blurbs until this feature was added. Sure, I generally have to chase down the blurb myself, but at least when we open an ebook, we know what it’s about.

  25. eva_baby
    Sep 28, 2009 @ 07:25:08

    I am one of those people who want the steak more than the sizzle. Right now in e-book land I think there is a point when you need to pick you battles.

    If there was something I’d want to the publishers to know about it would be availability of titles and competitive e-pricing. I think it is wrong for an e-book to cost more than a paper copy — and some of them do when they first come out. Since e-readers are quite an initial investment, many people justify the cost by understanding that purchasing books at a lower price will defray the cost of the reader itself over time.

    I do like a cover image, but it isn’t a deal breaker for me. I’d actually prefer a blurb more than a color cover.

    I have cover flow on my Ipod and at first it was all…”OOhh, cool. Shiny!” But I barely use it now, I just want my to listen to my songs.

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  27. Carolyn Jewel
    Sep 28, 2009 @ 08:59:01

    You are SOOOOO right! I have by now around 100 ebooks on my iPhone and I can’t always remember exactly what a book is about. I HATE that I can’t read back cover copy to refresh my memory. And when it’s a multbook series? Why the heck can’t they number them so I know what order they go in? This was a serious issue when I bought all the Charlaine Harris Sookie books. (Which I also bought in print.)

    How frustrating to try to figure out what book comes next — or now, if I want to look at a particular book in the series (for whatever reason) I have no idea what order they should be in.

    And yes, darn it! I want color covers.

  28. kat
    Sep 28, 2009 @ 09:11:38

    @Lena: I’m with you there. The covers usually make me take the stories less seriously, which is the last thing I want. Then again, I am decidedly NOT a visual person. I even skip the data graphics in my trade pubs and white papers — they just look like noise and clutter to me.

    That being said, I provided many graphics in my own (how-to nonfiction) ebooks because my customers wanted them. Why can’t publishers offer both graphic and non-graphic versions? If readers want it, the publishers should definitely oblige. It’s just good service.

  29. Angie
    Sep 28, 2009 @ 12:42:40

    Carolyn@27 — excellent point about series numbers. [nod] There’ve been times when I’ve just decided not to buy a series because there’s no indication on the book of which order to read them in. If it sounds like a particularly good series, I’ll grit my teeth and stand there in the bookstore aisle fumbling through the copyright pages of six or ten books, trying to figure out which one is the first or which one comes after the last one I read. With e-books, this is definitely the sort of information which should be right there in the book, or at the very least indicated in the marketing copy on the book’s sale page.

    It’s definitely a tipping point with me, though, and if I’m only kind of interested but it’s borderline, I’ll walk away rather than dig through copyright dates.


  30. Estara
    Sep 28, 2009 @ 14:45:27

    I just want to chime in that I also really love book covers and blurbs (synopses) for my ebooks. I adore Calibre’s latest versions that allow you not only to add your own choice of cover but the description and tags in your calibre software as the second page when you convert the file into another format. And then there’s the fact that Calibre also offers you collections aka tags with series names and numbers.

    Okay it would be nicer if the publishers already had that in the metadata, but I’ve found that some epublishers already have such things but not always the tags I want to use, so I have to edit the metadata anyway to not screw on my personal system.

    I tend to buy .epubs and – rarely – Adobe Digital .pdfs and then convert them into .lrf to read on my Sony 505 (which works quite well with the epubs but not so well with the pdfs).

    I have no problem with the amount of space that the covers take up, as I bought a Memory Stick 2GB and a SD Card 4GB right after I bought the reader (they’re not that expensive, considering I bought a dedicated electronic reading device in the first place) and I only use the memory on the reader itself to house my Jonathan Coulton song collection, in case I want to listen to music without bringing along a dedicated mp3 player.

    I bought the Sony after Jan’s review here made it clear it was also usable as a manga viewer and the manga files themselves can take up to 20 MB for a 200 page manga in .lrf format, whereas even with the amount of books I’ve bought at BooksonBoard I have hardly scratched the capacity on my memory stick.

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  32. Miki
    Sep 28, 2009 @ 17:59:42

    I also prefer the cover and blurb. And for all that today’s digital readers are black and white, there’s nothing to say we won’t all be upgrading to color in a few years. So give us the color covers, while you’re at it!

  33. Leah Hultenschmidt
    Sep 29, 2009 @ 10:25:16

    It’s not that publishers want to deprive ebook readers of covers – believe me. Many times, if it’s not an issue of technology, it’s an issue of what rights the publisher has from the artist who originally created the cover. Most are only licensed to be used on the physical book. Publishers would have to pay an extra fee for the additional usage, and right now ebook profits are pretty slim to begin with.

    As a reader, I totally agree that having the cover and the back cover blurb would be wonderful. Half the time I can’t remember what book in a series I just finished because I never see the cover, the art, and don’t have the running heads on the page to remind me of the title.

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  36. iqbal
    Apr 01, 2010 @ 03:21:41

    i agree with you…….

  37. willatsafkhet
    Sep 16, 2012 @ 09:30:08


    I totally agree about your comment on romance covers. Either it’s pink with flowery letters or has some half-naked couple on it that makes you think “is this chick-lit or sex for the brain?” I admit, eye candy is nice but most just do the same-ole’ same-ole’.

    I’d like to think our covers aren’t cheesy. If you like romance books, take a look at the Safkhet Soul covers. Maybe that’s something for you:

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