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It was understandable but slightly “heartbreaking”, designer Anna Morrison said of the news that Waterstones is asking shoppers to judge a book by its back cover.
The retailer has offered its apologies to book designers after some newly reopened branches began displaying books back to front so browsers could read the blurb without picking it up.
Morrison, who mainly designs covers for literary fiction, said she could see why it was happening, but it was still “a little sad”.
She added: “The amount of time and effort that is put in to the cover – it is kind of heartbreaking that no one can see it.
“There is a real art to a book cover. It can be a real labour of love and it is a bit disappointing to think our work is being turned round.”
“There is something very exciting walking through a bookshop and a cover catches your eye and you couldn’t necessarily say why,” he said.
“The reason people do judge a book by its cover is that it is that lovely first dip of the toe into a different world. I wouldn’t be excited about going into a bookshop and reading the back blurb of 40 books, I would feel a bit bombarded.
“We’ll be losing a bit of why we find the bookshop experience enjoyable. People find bookstores very calming places to go and I think it’s because you get to wander round and look at stuff which can be cool, or exciting. There is something very special about that.
“How many times have you come out of a bookshop with a book you’ve never heard of by an author you don’t know for no other reason you were just drawn to it?”
Suzanne Dean, who heads the design team at Vintage, said she understood why Waterstones was doing it.
“But I have this hope that they will think of displaying the front and back side-by-side. I’m biased, I’ve created quite a few of those covers but it would be good if people could see the whole package.
“The front cover is a mini-poster for the book. It is our job, on the front, to grab the reader’s attention. You have a lot to convey in a small space and only a couple of seconds to attract the browser’s eye. It is an important thing and we are all striving for something that is creative, unique and striking.”
Bricks and mortar bookshops were able to reopen on 15 June and have seen a 30% increase on equivalent sales last year.
People can pick up a book in Waterstones but if they do not buy, it is quarantined for 72 hours. A branch in Swansea was first to post on Twitter that they were turning books round where possible. The flagship store in London’s Piccadilly on Tuesday tweeted: “We’re doing a bit of this too. Apologies to all book cover designers.”
Most of the book cover designers the Guardian spoke to were quite sanguine about the new, hopefully temporary, way of displaying their work.
Jamie Keenan, whose recent covers include Joyce Carol Oates’s Night. Sleep. Death. The Stars, said he liked the idea of walking into a bookshop and seeing things from a different angle. “It will be interesting to see what books sell based on their back cover and if it makes a difference.”
“It actually makes our credits more visible and, since we designed the back cover as well, it’s win-win really.”