You can’t judge an e-book by its cover, because it usually doesn’t have one—or at least one that you can see without having already bought the book, which renders being attracted to it on a shelf fairly moot. I’ve written a few pieces about that here already.

But here’s an article with a slightly different slant than the, “Oh no, we’re losing book covers, what will we do now?” complaints of the past. The Atlantic has a piece looking at what digital book designers are doing about it.

[Abrams publishing editor in chief Eric] Himmel has been in publishing for 30 years, and at the art-focused ABRAMS, it is his job to care about design. "Book covers have been in crisis for some time now," he told me. Pressure comes from the shrunken images on Amazon, a need for covers to be more multifunctional, and, on the other hand, a renewed desire to reclaim the tactile qualities of textured, gorgeous print. The idea of a book cover as a singular form has vanished some time ago, and he says, "I don’t have a clear view of the future."

The piece discusses book cover designer Carin Goldberg, who has been teaching classes on cover design theory in the digital world. Her students have been experimenting with more sophisticated cover layouts, including some that use animation, audio, or video.

It also looks at how Penguin handles e-book covers, and discusses the problems inherent in creating something compatible with the multiple formats e-books use these days. Seth Godin’s perspective on covers is that e-books should have multiple covers for different uses and areas. (Godin’s Domino Project books usually don’t have traditional covers at all, just images, since they’re sold through Amazon and have the title text elsewhere on the page.)

I’m not really sure there’s any point to a multimedia e-book “cover”, but my opinion isn’t necessarily shared by the majority. With that in mind, I think it’s a good thing that people are experimenting to see what kind of thing is going to work.