Are you a fondler? Or do you keep your hands to yourself in a bookshop? The question is seen as a vital one for publishers keen to preserve the traditional paper book. Why? Because a tactile, finger-friendly cover can often mean the difference between a strong seller and one that bombs at the tills, or so the thinking goes.
“Publishers are putting a lot of the time, money and love into covers,” says Cathy Rentzenbrink of The Bookseller. Once, that might have meant more elaborate graphic design, perhaps a more artful photograph on the front, but today the vogue is all for varying the paper finish.
“When I design a book cover, I’ll always consider what paper type best suits the book. But quite often with the teen books I design, that means matt. For me, it is the first stop in making books that are quality items,” says Jack Noel, who has designed covers for books such as Edward Hogan’s Daylight Saving and Black Spring by Alison Croggon.
The notion of judging a book by its cover may strike one as facile. But it is in fact part of what Noel terms “the fightback” against the rise of the e-book – a laudable desire to preserve tangible, fully sniffable paper books.
“We have to ensure traditional books look amazing and are beautiful objects that people want to pick up and keep,” says Sara Granger, production manager at Penguin.
Her publishing house was one of the first big players to recognise the necessity for a change in mindset and now produces books of startling chicness. To peruse the Penguin range is to find a feast for the eyes, and fingers. It uses countless cover finishes, not least the eminently touchable “soft-touch matt laminate” (velvet-feel, to you and me). The new Penguin classics use coloured cloth overlaid with foil, which, again, couldn’t be much further from the standard “shiny paper, big pic” trope of yesteryear.
The battle against the e-book is not confined only to the front page, however. Endnotes are also increasingly popular and the publisher Indigo uses the edges of the leaves as a canvas (especially niftily done on Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher, which features a flock of birds in flight picked out by UV varnish).
Of course, it’s impossible to say whether winning these small-scale artistic skirmishes will mean the physical book survives – but for dedicated page-sniffers the labours can only be to the good.