The End of the Book Voyeur

“What is that?” said the flight attendant, pointing near the region of my, ahem, crotch.

Startled after a 35,000-foot nap, I snapped my eyes to where she had dared go. Is my fly open?

“Oh, this!” I said, relieved I wasn’t exposed. It was the top half of the book cover, a colorful scene of adults and children sledding. I lifted the seat tray and held up the book resting on my lap. “I’m reading Snow Day by Billy Coffey. It’s his debut novel.”

“I noticed the cover and I love to read. What’s it about?”

Given that she’d paused her pre-descent checklist to ask about the book, I knew she was sincere. I gave her as thorough a synopsis as I could in thirty seconds.

“Wow! It’s his first novel?” she said, accepting my offer to look closer at the cover. “Sounds like a good story. Thanks for telling me about it!”

Upon exiting the aircraft, I gave her a card with the book title and the author’s website. She thanked me, and I went on my way.

Walking through the terminal, I couldn’t help but consider, What if it was the top half of my Kindle eReader sticking out from under the seat tray? Would she have asked about it?

After all, it was the snow-laden cover art that distracted her during the routine seatbelt check — I wasn’t even reading it. The book was sandwiched halfway between the seat tray and my thigh, yet she still noticed. Does this episode reveal implications for the death of free advertising an author gains with printed copy and cover art?

Every time I’ve sat near a fellow reader on an airplane, I’ve cornered my eye or looked between the seats in front of me to see what they’re reading. Most of the time I’ll catch a glimpse of the cover or title. I’ll note if the reader has read much of the book. If so, coupling that observation with the title, I might investigate further at a bookstore. Great advertising for authors.

Thriller writer Joe Moore had blogged about the demise of free advertising resulting from the stark plastic chassis of an eReader over an eye-catching book cover. Moore says, “Seeing someone reading from a Kindle on a plane or in a Starbucks tells you absolutely nothing about the book.

Short of asking a stranger in public what they’re reading, how will you recognize the title if they’re holding an eReader? If word of mouth is the writer’s best marketing friend, how much advertising potential is being lost when book voyeurs can’t see the cover of their prey?

Despite the excitement over my new Kindle (read why I chose the Kindle), printed books will always find a way to my shelf, be it a favorite author, a discounted price tag, or a compelling cover that looks and feels good in my hands. Most readers could care less about silent publicity for the book they’re reading, but what about the authors? The publishers?

Do you have any thoughts? If you’re a published author, have you thought about the impact of seeing more eReaders in the airport and less chances of seeing your book in a reader’s hand? If you’re a reader, do you take pride in showing off what you’re reading in public settings?

9 thoughts on “The End of the Book Voyeur

  1. @Lori, I’m with you. I was hesitant to jump into the eReader market, but the prices came down enough for me to justify trying it. I have to admit, I really love my Kindle, although I just purchased a couple more real books, so to speak. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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  2. I know this isn’t exactly what you were asking, but I love the “feel” of holding an actual book. When I am reading a book I love, I want people to know about it, so they will check it out, too. I don’t have an e-reader yet, and I will be slow to come around (as I was to cell phones, the internet, email, facebook, etc). While I understand the benefit of technology, there is a certain sadness to how it has all changed our lives. It’s not necessarily bad, it’s just different. I will always love reading honest to goodness books, magazines, and newspapers, especially while traveling.

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  3. @Terri, ditto on Billy’s cover art. That was one I definitely wanted in hardback. No Kindle for Coffey with Snow Day. :)@Ann, glad it kept you reading, and I was glad to see the comment from your published viewpoint. And I agree, you’ve got a unique cover with Not So Fast. :)@Jennifer, thanks for visiting! You brought up a great point that I hadn’t considered, that a book can often tell us much of its reader. Hmmm, so does a Kindle tell us much about its owner? A couple of years ago, an expensive eReader might have suggested “Rich Book Nerd!” Not so nowadays. A friend of mine who doesn’t care to read still wants a Kindle…because they’re affordable and they look cool. 🙂

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  4. Brock, I confess: I, too, am a book voyeur! Now, I have given great consideration to the implications of eReaders to the consumer, but less to the authors — especially with regard to the free advertising factor you mention here. I find this so interesting…Moore’s quote: “Seeing someone reading from a Kindle on a plane or in a Starbucks tells you absolutely nothing about the book.”Too, it tells us very little about the person reading the book. You’ve got me thinking. Fun post, Brock! 🙂

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  5. Oh my goodness, I laughed a big “Ha!” while reading the first paragraph. I had to keep going.And I loved where it went! I love that she spied the cover–who knows if you can *judge* a book by its cover, but it sure looks like you can indeed *sell* a book by its cover!Several parents have told me that they either bought my book, Not So Fast, or seriously considered buying it, based solely on the cover.So I *definitely* think the cover has served as free advertising.

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  6. I think his cover is part of the draw of his book. You made me really think on this as I’m one of those people who eye the book others are reading and have asked about them. It is promoting the book!

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