Review of Craig Mod’s “Hack the Cover”

Are book covers dead? Check out Craig Mod’s “Hack the Cover.” It’s a great quick book. 39 pages (twice as long as his “Books in the Age of the iPad” and ten times as good). You can even read the entire book online for free. Or in Kindle format for $3.99.

There are lots of great insights in this book. I have a total of 26 highlights and 22 notes in this short book. It’s like a little treasure chest full of ideas about what the book cover means now in the digital age. He also leaves a teaser at the end of the book with initial thoughts on how since digital books essentially have no cover, the insides starting point of the book needs be more engaging. But then he abruptly ends the book at that.

Aside from the cliffhanger at the end, the entire book is a joy to read. If you like thinking about the future of books, then this is a MUST read for you. Here’s my collection of favorite passages sorted by topic:
Throughout this book, he declares the death of the book cover and why:

— “The cover as we know it really is — gasp — ‘dead.’ But it’s dead because the way we touch digital books is different than the way we touch physical books. And once you acknowledge that, useful corollaries emerge.”

— “We jump in and out of digital texts with little to no procession. In contrast, every time you set down a physical book, the cover is staring up at you. And every time you pick it back up, you have to go “through” the cover to get to the text. Do that five times and you’ll never forget the title or author.”

— “And as certain books become applications, their covers become icons.” … “To which Mr. Godin explains to readers confused by the lack of words: “Who needs them? When you see the book online, it’s always accompanied by lots of text. You read the text on the screen, the cover is the icon.” … “The classic notion of a cover made digital is more like a book’s .favicon rather than a gateway into the text.”

— “The covers for our digital editions need not yell. Need not sell.”

Craig uses some great poetic imagery to describe libraries:

— “The people who shelve the books in Widener talk about the library’s breathing—at the start of the term, the stacks exhale books in great swirling clouds; at end of term, the library inhales, and the books fly back.”

A wonderful comparison of what protects physical books and digital books:

— “Here, the cover is a protector of the signatures and the binding. It allows the books to fly in and out of the stacks a thousand times, and still be usable. In the digital world, our books are protected by ubiquity.”

He touches on how the front matter of a book should operate:

— “Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. We’re brought into the book. Each subsequent spread sets the tone as we’re led into the front matter. The papers, the quality of printing, the balanced design cues; before you reach the table of contents, you know Farah Behbehani does not fuck around.”

And how the insides of books should be:

— “Jump into Frank’s ebook willy-nilly — any of these chapter opening images could be a cover. He has, on the most base level — within the constraints of our current ebook systems — distributed the cover throughout his entire book.” … “The reality is, entire books need to be treated as covers.” … “To treat an entire book as a cover means to fold the typographic and design love usually reserved for covers into everything.”

— “This lack of platforminess is what makes many iPad magazine apps impotent. They end up in no better a position than a printed magazine. There are no routes by which you can directly get to their content. You can’t point in. You’re forced to go through the “front door” to get anywhere. And it’s a door usually weighing several hundred megabytes and infuriatingly difficult to unlock.”

The end of his book was rather abrupt. Throughout the book he explains in good detail how the cover is dead. At the end he briefly touches on how the beginning of the book should be more engaging, but it left me wanting more. Intentional in his part?

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4 thoughts on “Review of Craig Mod’s “Hack the Cover””

  1. While I really enjoyed this book, and there are many great points; I do disagree with how the cover no longer serves a function to sell. Yes, book reviews/recommendations do weigh heavily in my book selection. However, when I look at a book on Amazon (or wherever), one of my first impression is with the cover. Does it look professional? Does it have a personality that conveys what I want to read?

    The book cover isn’t just some technical piece of information. There is an art to the cover that leaves us with an emotional response–whether it’s a good emotion or bad emotion.

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