In The E-Book World, Are Book Covers A Dying Art?

  • 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami: "This epic, complex story begins when a woman named Aomame in 1984 Tokyo has a revelation that she has entered a universe parallel to our own. She calls it 'Q' for question, and in Japanese, Q rhymes with 9. I wanted to represent these two planes of existence with the book's jacket and its paper binding underneath."
    Hide caption
    1Q84 by Haruki Murakami: "This epic, complex story begins when a woman named Aomame in 1984 Tokyo has a revelation that she has entered a universe parallel to our own. She calls it 'Q' for question, and in Japanese, Q rhymes with 9. I wanted to represent these two planes of existence with the book's jacket and its paper binding underneath."
    Courtesy of Chip Kidd/Alfred A. Knopf
  • "The jacket is made of a semi-transparent vellum and holds part of the woman's image within the lettering of the title. Underneath is the complimentary image on the binding, and together they 'complete the reality.' Even if you don't know anything about the book when you first see it, you are forced to consider the concept of one person 'stradling' two states of being."
    Hide caption
    "The jacket is made of a semi-transparent vellum and holds part of the woman's image within the lettering of the title. Underneath is the complimentary image on the binding, and together they 'complete the reality.' Even if you don't know anything about the book when you first see it, you are forced to consider the concept of one person 'stradling' two states of being."
    Courtesy of Chip Kidd/Alfred A. Knopf
  • American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis: "It always bothered me that the original cover of this book showed the main character's face so clearly straight-on. In fiction covers, I always want to give readers the chance to create what the characters look like in their minds as they read."
    Hide caption
    American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis: "It always bothered me that the original cover of this book showed the main character's face so clearly straight-on. In fiction covers, I always want to give readers the chance to create what the characters look like in their minds as they read."
    Courtesy of Chip Kidd/Alfred A. Knopf
  • The Mind's Eye by Oliver Sacks: "This book by the renown neuro-scientist is about how eyesight works in the brain and how it doesn't. When the author goes to the optometrist for a checkup and the eye chart starts doing strange things, he knows there is a problem. It spurs him on to research the miraculous phenomena of how we see."
    Hide caption
    The Mind's Eye by Oliver Sacks: "This book by the renown neuro-scientist is about how eyesight works in the brain and how it doesn't. When the author goes to the optometrist for a checkup and the eye chart starts doing strange things, he knows there is a problem. It spurs him on to research the miraculous phenomena of how we see."
    Courtesy of Chip Kidd/Alfred A. Knopf
  • The Learners by Chip Kidd: "Since the narrator is essentially me, the cover is a kind of self-portrait — only I'm a terrible draftsman. So I hired the cartoonist and illustrator Charles Burns to draw it, and Chris Ware did the lettering. This is really intended to be 'The Scream' as rendered by two of the best contemporary artists in America."
    Hide caption
    The Learners by Chip Kidd: "Since the narrator is essentially me, the cover is a kind of self-portrait — only I'm a terrible draftsman. So I hired the cartoonist and illustrator Charles Burns to draw it, and Chris Ware did the lettering. This is really intended to be 'The Scream' as rendered by two of the best contemporary artists in America."
    Courtesy of Chip Kidd/Alfred A. Knopf
  • Life Upon These Shores by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.: "The author wanted an image 'out of time,' not specific to any one era, because the book spans centuries. I culled the conceptual emphasis from the word 'Looking' in the subtitle, and then augmented that with basic elements of the American flag."
    Hide caption
    Life Upon These Shores by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.: "The author wanted an image 'out of time,' not specific to any one era, because the book spans centuries. I culled the conceptual emphasis from the word 'Looking' in the subtitle, and then augmented that with basic elements of the American flag."
    Courtesy of Chip Kidd/Alfred A. Knopf

1 of 6

View slideshow i

In the olden days, a reader might pick up a book because the cover was exciting, intriguing, maybe even beautiful. But in the brave new world of e-books and e-readers, the days when an artist named Chip Kidd could make us reach for a book may be gone.

Chip Kidd, an associate art director at publisher Alfred A. Knopf, has written a new graphic novel called Batman: Death by Design. i i

Chip Kidd, an associate art director at publisher Alfred A. Knopf, has written a new graphic novel called Batman: Death by Design. Courtesy of Chip Kidd hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of Chip Kidd
Chip Kidd, an associate art director at publisher Alfred A. Knopf, has written a new graphic novel called Batman: Death by Design.

Chip Kidd, an associate art director at publisher Alfred A. Knopf, has written a new graphic novel called Batman: Death by Design.

Courtesy of Chip Kidd

Kidd, an associate art director at publisher Alfred A. Knopf, has designed book covers for the past 25 years for authors like Cormac McCarthy, John Updike, David Sedaris and Michael Crichton. Remember the menacing Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton on movie posters for Jurassic Park? The original version was Kidd's cover design for the novel.

Earlier this year, Kidd gave a TED talk on the art of designing books. He told the audience that while e-books offer convenience, the growing digital publishing world risks losing "tradition, a sensual experience, the comfort of thingy-ness, [and] a little bit of humanity."

Still, as Kidd tells NPR's Linda Wertheimer, all books — electronic, hardcover or paperback — need covers.

"They need some kind of visual representation, whether you're going to be seeing them the size of a postage stamp on a computer screen or a smartphone, or sitting on a table, or on a shelf, or in a bookstore," he says.

A veteran of the book publishing industry, Kidd understands that his book designs ultimately must help serve the bottom line. His designs can be effective in helping new titles stand out in a bookstore display, but on the online marketplace, a beautifully designed cover can only get you so far.

"People don't buy a book on the Web because of the cover," Kidd says. "They'll buy a book on the Web because they've read a review or it's word of mouth or some combination of the two."

But he's not worried about sticking to old-fashioned ways.

"Hardcover books are, frankly, luxury items, and they sort of always have been," he says. "And I think there will be a market for them."

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.