On The Bookseller, Damian Horner notes that the rise of e-books means a fall in the prominence of the book cover, and ponders what that will mean for the industry. (We’ve covered this ourselves a time or two.) He points out that, until the e-book era, we were able to see what our fellow passengers in public transportation were reading, and perhaps be moved to investigate the book for ourselves. With so many covered books being replaced by e-readers, that curiosity-satisfying opportunity for passengers—and marketing opportunity for publishers—is vanishing.

In the past, the book cover has been instrumental in the way books have been positioned, sold and remembered. Indeed, the book cover provides publishers with millions and millions of pounds-worth of promotion each year. It is so potent that even paid-for book marketing still has barely evolved past the point of presenting a cover with a punning headline.

Without the daily visual prompts that book covers provide, the industry will be forced to fundamentally change the way it markets to consumers.

The thing is, Horner devotes the entire post to noting that covers are going away and publishers are going to have to change their strategy, but he doesn’t really say much about how they will have to change that strategy. The one example he brings up, Seth Godin’s decision to remove the title from the cover of his latest book since it will be shown prominently in the Amazon listings anyway, might be helpful for the on-line sales aspect, but doesn’t do anything to make up for passengers no longer being able to see it on an e-book.

I wonder if at some point in the future, when displays have gotten really cheap, e-readers might start being made with a screen on the back (like some cell phones have) that will display the cover image of whatever is being read at the moment? If the e-book device maker is also a content publisher (like Amazon), it could be in their best interest to sell more books that way.

But displays getting that cheap is probably at least ten years away, if it happens at all, and that doesn’t help publishers now. They’re just going to have to take advantage of some of the benefits Internet advertising has over traditional print to make up for those things it lacks.