Thursday, May 10, 2007

More Cover Thoughts

You know, I'm not sure if I should be gratified or annoyed that the moldy old rasfw posts that I toss out on days when I'm too busy or distracted to actually blog are consistently the ones that get noticed, and commented on, in the wider world. Was I that much more interesting in the early '00s? Or did I just choose those reprinted posts very well, proving I'm doubly smart?

I mean, obviously I'm an attention hog -- I'm a blogger, aren't I? it goes with the territory -- so, either way, it's fine. But I do have this lurking tendency to always look for the downside of every situation. (Note: foreshadowing.)

One of the things I bring up every time I get into a discussion about cover art like this (generally on rasfw, or otherwise among fans), is that we're not the typical SFF novel-readers. Anyone who has a list of books that he's looking for, or reads reviews and jots down titles, is a pretty serious reader, and part of a distinct minority of the world of readers. (I mean, we're wonderful people, obviously, and incredibly smart and perspicacious, but there aren't all that many of us, comparatively.)

But the corollary to that is even more important -- if people like us ever became typical in a particular area (and I think we're at, or near, that situation with SFF short fiction), that means that the mass audience has abandoned or been shut out of that area. Sophisticated, list-making, review-reading readers are relatively rare in the larger universe of readers, and if they're a majority in a particular reading category, it's because everyone else is avoiding that thing. (Maybe because they're being shoved away, maybe because they don't even know it's there -- the possible reasons are many and varied.)

That may seem fun and clubby, but it's a recipe for declining interest, sales, and fortunes, which is not something we want for SFF. So when I see someone saying (like Neth did in comments on the last post) that he thinks people aren't buying by cover art anymore, but are being driven by reviews on Amazon, I immediately reach for my revolver assume that means that "real" readers are deserting us in droves. But then I remember that Amazon has only about 10% of the market, and I feel somewhat better.


Cheryl said...

With you all the way here.

Jeremy said...

I am a pretty serious reader, and I've always bought books partially based on a cover. A bad cover will keep me a way, and a good cover will certainly lubricate the transaction.

I always figured that if the publisher/editor was willing to spend a lot of money on a good illustrator, then they must have a lot of faith in it. And hell, genre books do have a tendency to have covers that actually tell you something about the contents of the book.

Neth said...

Well, I'm sticking to my position that the importance of cover art is declining. I know that I am far from the typical reader, but a lot of my friends and family would meet that definition.

For example, my wife in the last couple years almost never buys a book without reading the reviews for at Amazon, regardless of the fact that she only rarely actually purchases books from them. I keep telling her my rather strong opinion on the 'reviews' there but she always comes back with the convinience and accessibility.

I've asked a couple friends who are closer to the 'typical' reader (though not what I'd call genre readers either) and none of them mention cover art as a deciding factor (or if they did it was to comment about bad cover art). Of course my couple of questions is hardly a good study on it.

I just need to be convinced that cover art holds the sway that it once did. I argue that it has almost no power for someone shopping on-line - the title and blurb will be much more important. And even in a traditional book store, unless a book is one of very few that is shelved or presented in a way that the cover art is even visible, the title or author's name is going to be the deciding factor for whether someone picks up a book.

It may remain to be just me, but the importance and emphasis of cover art seems out dated (though it is still fun to talk about).

Joe said...

Neth: I want to believe you and I want to take your position, but I also have to believe that the publishers know their covers are ugly as sin (which may be unfair since sin tends to be kind of pretty). I have to believe this because it permits me to believe there is a reason why these ugly covers make it on to books I want to read and that the reason is the ugly covers sell books to people very much unlike you and I.

I have to believe that there are periodic attempts to test the waters with pretty covers and that these attempts fail...which unfortunately harms the author moreso than the publisher (in my mind) because it is the author's work which "did not sell"

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