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.


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  1. Ben says:

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

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  2. Joe says:

    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.

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  3. VB in NV says:

    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?

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  4. Ian Kemmish says:

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

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  5. nate says:

    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.

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  6. Kindle Owner says:

    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.

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  7. David Chowes, New York City says:

    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.”

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  8. greg says:

    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.

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