The Economics of Book Covers

Marginal decisions to increase the net of revenue minus costs arise in non-profit organizations as much as in companies. The designers of a recent book, Peter Leeson‘s The Invisible Hook (Princeton University Press, 2009), recognized this in picking a cover. The dust jacket features a wooden background (a plank?), onto which a transparent hook has been laminated – thus a semi-visible hook! Pretty cute, but the lamination adds to total variable cost. So why do it? Presumably the Press believes that this design will make the book stand out from others and sell more copies. Total revenue will rise, perhaps by more than the increase in variable cost. If so, this was a wise business decision; if not, at least it’s an innovation that will help make the Press more visible in the publishing world.


Ben

Thanks for the description of how advertising works! It's good to be reminded that economics doesn't HAVE to be interesting.

Joe

Must be working already because you wouldn't have written about it otherwise and I probably wouldn't have heard about the book or been intrigued to read it if you hadn't written about it.

VB in NV

How much, if anything, did this really add to the cost of the cover? When would the cost of hiring an illustrator of photographer exceed the cost of a sticker?

Ian Kemmish

A marketing department which is aware that stuff costs money? I'd have killed for one of those, back before I retired.

nate

Have there been any studies comparing sales with two different covers for the same book at the same time? It might also be interesting to see how much the cover matters in bookstores compared to internet vendors.

Kindle Owner

Not sure where their marketing strategy is going. If you buy the Kindle version you can pay nearly as much and not have the benefit of the cool cover. I am sure there is some sort of incentive principle at work but I don't understand it. A near zero cost max margin for them for the electronic version and they discourage people from buying that in favor of the hardcover.

Having said that I really enjoy books with interesting covers. Why We Make Mistakes as one example where the dust cover is cut crooked. Or Made To Stick with what looks and feels like duct tape on the cover.

David Chowes, New York City

The goal of all companies: the bottom line -- profit.

As Kris Kristofferson said in one of his songs -- "Whatever Gets You Through the Night."

A publisher wants to sell books -- by any means necessary. And, the night is a book which doesn't sell. Call that the "night."

greg

Would you sell more copies of ' The Adventures of Tom Sawyer ' if you change 2 of the words from the author's original text? The change would be made 100 years after the death of the author, and the words would be considered ' less offensive ' socially than the original words, at the time the book was published.

kaspar

I wonder what the opportunity cost of writing this blog post was? Is boring economics the new freakonomics? What is freaky about forcing Gary Becker's economic approach to human behavior onto every phenomenon you can possibly think of?

If the quality of posts in this blog starts gravitating to the standard of the above piece, there is no point in continuing to read it.

Ann T. Hathaway

@ # 5 above:
One of the first authors who had a book with covers that experimented with marketing effectiveness was Future Shock by Alvin Toffler--at least in mass-market paperback.. The book came out in a number of colors and supposedly, the color choices of the public was taken into consideration for other titles and other efforts.

Ann T.

Erik

Nate, I think Cory Doctorow's "With a Little Help" anthology has been selling online with several different covers. I'm not sure about the varying success of them though. Might want to check out craphound.com

jenn

Laminated? Or embossed?

Eric M. Jones

@7 David, "Whatever Gets You Through the Night." was Frank Sinatra.

AI

@kaspar (#9)

Commenting for the first time here, just to say that I completely agree with you.

"Presumably the Press believes that this design will make the book stand out from others and sell more copies. Total revenue will rise, perhaps by more than the increase in variable cost. If so, this was a wise business decision; if not, at least it's an innovation that will help make the Press more visible in the publishing world."

Yes, one must be a professor of economics to make such an insightful observation.

This post may have been interesting if the author showed just how much book covers actually matter using data, but without that... I second kaspar's last sentence.

Bingsh

By far the worst entry on this blog. I've come to expect a bit more from you guys. Everyone reading this already understands the concepts discussed here - such a waste of time.

Eric M. Jones

Sales and Marketing departments can destroy companies by "freshening up the book cover", too.

In the days when engineering catalogs were on long shelves and telephones and Rolodexes were the tools of the trade, I could always grab the "Company-X" catalog from a stack by its distinctive blue and white cover.

After a decade of these (their parts were almost never-changing), some bright person had the idea to change it to dark brown with a hard-to-read spine.

I tossed out the old catalog...but could never seem to find the new one in the stacks of other books and catalogs.

And you can bet Company-X blamed the reduction in sales on the Asians, the reduction in military spending, competition, the economy or whatever--instead of their own bone-headed catalog artwork.

Dana Chandler

Made to Stick by the Heath brothers at Stanford GSB also have a great book cover in this style. It's got a big piece of masking tape on the cover. Get it?

I liked it and think it probably worked. Naturally, they never conducted experiments or piloted the different covers like @10 suggested that Toffler did.