Image: Unsplash
Image: Unsplash

The relationship between social media and book cover design

Does social media influence book cover design? is a question Holly Connolly of The Guardian asked readers last week.

My answer: what doesn’t it influence?

Social media is undoubtedly the strongest marketing tool targeting modern consumers. It changes and dictates what we eat, wear, watch, think, and now read. But not just the stories we tuck into, often the exact copies we pick up.

If Instagram is all about the aesthetic, then this isn’t lost on the literary world. Covers are increasingly becoming miniature works of art. Once just a place to put the title and author’s name, book covers now follow trends – from minimalism and clean lines to painting-like illustrations and detail.  And it seems, right now, the bolder and more beautiful the cover, the better. Their graphic prints, bright hues and eye-catching images make many of them worthy of framing. Or at least ‘gramming.

Their account is littered with photos of beautiful books: by the side of pools, artfully stacked on a bedside table and held in front of sunsets

‘Bookstagrammers’ are slowly rising through the micro-influencer ranks, as accounts like Belletrist (@belletrist) – co-founded by actress Emma Roberts – encourage a generation notoriously glued to their devices to pick up a book, instead. Their account is littered with photos of beautiful books: by the side of pools, artfully stacked on a bedside table and held in front of sunsets. In their “Stacked” Instagram story feature, celebrities like Nicole Richie and Lena Dunham “show their shelves”, all of which are filled with pristine, eye-popping copies of their favourite books. Not a dog-eared page or coffee cup mark in sight.

I really do understand the appeal of a beautiful book. Even more so, I understand the desire to share that beauty. I’ll never scroll past a colour co-ordinated shelfie or #amreading post without giving it a like. If the eye is the window to the soul, then the cover is surely the same to the book. It draws our attention; enchants and bewitches us with its colours and unique beauty. I’ll happily admit to having paid more money for an ornate fabric jacketed copy of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles simply because it looked nicer. And one of my now-favourites, Sophie Mackintosh’s The Water Cure, was picked out solely because of its early press release cover – a textless page with just the back of a blonde head submerged in pale blue water. It was ethereal and beautifully whimsical and would have looked perfect against a stone wall background if I wasn’t prohibited by law to ‘gram it.

I would argue that any strategy that gets more people buying books and reading is a good one

Many are divided by their views on the Instagram influence on the publishing world. Other than saying, once again, “what doesn’t it influence?”, I would argue that any strategy that gets more people buying books and reading is a good one. I’m not a book snob. If the only thing that gets my younger cousins to pick up a book is Zoella or a Kardashian having “written” it, then so be it. But having books as Instagram’s newest accessory does make me a little bit sad for the ones that get left behind – the ones with the cracked spines and scribbles in the margin that could never place in the book beauty contest. In the article, Femke Brull of @booksfemme is quoted as saying “if I don’t like the cover, I won’t photograph it and put it on my feed”.

When I think of my bookcase, the first thing I can visualise is the neon green jacket of Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties, for obvious reasons. And then it’s Laura Jane Williams’ Becoming, with its millennial pink background and layering of outlined faces. And then it’s a really awful Readers Digest copy of Lolita that I picked up in a charity shop, with its gold engraving and tacky “leather” bound cover.

So maybe it is the beautiful that we like best, and certainly remember most. But as long as we don’t forget that no matter the hashtags and hype, like with all good things, it’s what’s inside a book that counts most.


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