Whenever I travel, I always take a peek at what books are being showcased in the airport racks. Now, I’m sure most of you know, the content of these racks is not determined by any sales list, or critical acclaim. Placement is determined by payment. Not so much a payola system, but it’s something that the average reader isn’t aware of. The average reader walking on the way to their gate looks at these racks and sees what they think is a popular and acclaimed book, and they might be inclined to pick it up. Not to say these aren’t acclaimed books, a lot of times they are, its just their publishers have paid for that rack space, that face time.
Which made me think of paperback design.
I’m a proponent of good design, I’m also a student of design and trends. I like to think about the why as well as the how. Paperback book design is very different that trade design. I’d very much like to see good design applied to their smaller sized cousins, but for now the prevalent thinking of marketing prevents any large steps forward in this area. The paperback is largely disposable, and the design has been accused of such. Sometimes covers are scaled down versions of their larger cousins, but the thinking of paperback cover design is name recognition. And airports are a large part of why this is. When you literally have seconds to connect with a buyer who is either running late to their gate, or is distracted by the stress of modern air travel, name recognition matters. A lot. The thinking is, the airport reader is largely looking of disposable reading he/she is familiar with. In those precious seconds, they scan the racks, and those names that they are familiar with are going to pop out at them. That’s why we see names that take up almost half the size of the cover. Bright colors, high contrast, large name over title, they matter to the publisher. Like it or not, designers have to play within these constraints.
So, since I’ve taken a look at the books on display durning my travels this week, I’m going to review books that I saw on the racks. Show you some of the good designs I saw. Kind of a theme, but fun to put them in context with their paid placement on those racks.