Judge a book by its cover. Why beautifully printed covers are so important in the digital age.

I am on my way home, walking in a steady pace, confident that I will go straight passed my favorite shop on my street. I am not going to even look in the windows. I am getting closer and closer, it is just around the corner now, tempting me. As I pass by, telling myself I am not to go in or I will end up buying something, I automatically slow down, my eyes fall across the beautifully designed bookshop windows, filled with all kinds of beautiful prints, all from fiction to art books to travels books, and I know I have lost the battle. The colors, the layouts, the paper make my stomach bubble with excitement, and I fall into the temptation of going in, once again. Inside, I let my eyes slide over the tables and walls covered in books, looking for that one book that screams my name. I pick up an off-white paperback which cover is ornamented with a single watercolor sunflower. The paper feels rough in my hands, as if it was printed on recycled paper, thick and delicate at the same time. The pages inside are filled with short poems and illustrated with simple line drawings. I know this book will end up going home with me to join my bookshelf collection.

“Print is beautiful. It can’t notify you when a work email arrives, can’t be tweeted mid-sentence, and won’t die without a charger. Even better, it’s finite.” Chava Gourarie, journalist for The Colombia Journalism Review, states that print is the new ‘new media’. And I think she is right, print is not dead. In a way it has been reborn with the development of digital content. In fact, print has one huge advantage over digital content; it has design. I think that now, more than ever, book design is so important. It is the one thing that makes print stand out. The saying goes: you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but the reader most certainly will. If the cover doesn’t look appealing, chances are, the reader won’t pick it up from the shelf and have a peak on the inside either. It may be dangerous to say that the aesthetics of a book cover is more important than the actual content, but it all comes in a package, it kind of belongs together. The print and the design is a part of the storytelling. The hole of it together is what makes it a little piece of art. The content in a way feels naked without it. Reading a book on your kindle is practical and all, I get it, but I always get the feeling that something is missing. The ceremony of examining the cover, the paper and the backside of the book before opening up on page one of the first chapter. You are missing out on this beautiful activity when reading an e-book.

I am pretty sure I am not the only one owning hundreds of delightful little notebooks that I never dare to write in, I just had to buy them for the beautiful paper quality and the elegant design on the covers, making me want to start writing poems or short stories while sipping an espresso on a sidewalk café in Paris. This never actually happens of course, the notebooks continue to stand unused in my bookshelf just for the pleasure of looking at them from time to time. I think the same also goes for books and magazines. People often end up buying beautiful prints to have on their coffee table, or in their bookshelves. When that is said, print is not only aesthetically more pleasing than digital content; it also has a special advantage in connecting with our brains. According to Roger Dooley, in his article about neuroscience research for Forbes Media, “physical material is more “real” to the brain”, it kicks off the emotional processing in the brain, which is very important for the memory. He also mentions a study done in Norway, where students who read actual printed texts scored higher on the comprehension test than students who read a digital text, which is very interesting. So I guess we can say that physical print is both pleasing for the eye and for the brain. I think it is safe to say that print is not threatened by digital media, it is rather strengthened by it. With the circulation of more and more digital content, the print is forced to evolve as well, and a lot of creativity breaks out from that. As a result, book print is strongly considered a part of the creative industries and the world of art. I, for one, will definitely still continue filling up my bookshelves, both to fuel my brain activity and to please my aesthetic senses. 

Sofie de Linde