Digital design

We are now in a mature digital age. Hachette alone saw £50m of digital sales last year. The sales have come, and what was originally an experiment on the margins of publishing is core business. At this moment I think there are big questions to be asked about the quality of design that we are publishing for digital readers.

Looking at the cover of an e-book, it is usually just that of the paperback or hardback, though audiobooks have long had covers tweaked to their packaging. Good cover design both front and back is surely about fitting a strong set of information into a template both to encourage purchase and to encourage people to read a book. Yet publishers are making little or no adjustment to the cover and copy they are feeding into the digital retailers.

Pick up your Kindle, search for a book, scroll down (and down) and note that the publisher’s name is at the end of the product page, then think again about how clear your imprint identity is.

Reconsider your content in light of how it is being presented. What order will the blurb be on the digital description? What should go in? What works in a thumbnail cover? These are all questions we should be asking. Already Macmillan is creating digital hero covers on selected titles in its Bello backlist imprint: a good start.

Now I’m keen on backlist experimentation but let’s also place more attention on the books that sell best in digital. Download Wolf Hall on a Kindle, even just the sample. At the start to help those (like me) whose history is shaky we have the cast of characters and some family trees. Shockingly the family trees are just unreadable on any e-ink device and not much better on the iPad. Yet open a paperback and they’re carefully set into the page in landscape. Surely a double Booker winner deserves better treatment?

So we need change, but how will it come? This can be adversarial, with publishers bending rules as fast as retailers invent them—but it shouldn’t be. Let’s experiment to ensure a richly designed book experience is brought to digital in good time. How about Christmas?”

Alex Ingram is an e-book consultant