E-Commerce Book Design: Challenges and Opportunities


1106 Design

May 10, 2010

Could anyone have predicted, even ten years ago, that the bulk of our work and social lives would be managed through electronic devices, some small enough to fit in the palm of our hand? I know I couldn’t. As with all advances, we’re presented with challenges and opportunities in equal measure.

On the one hand, it used to be a lot easier to own a design business. I’d join the local Chamber of Commerce, advertise in a few local newspapers, place a few phone calls to businesses in need of my services, make a few appointments, and pretty soon I’d have a sizable and loyal customer base.

Competition was generally limited to others in my own community, so pricing was based on the local cost of living and local client expectations. These expectations, in turn, were shaped by the condition of the local economy at that point in time…or, to state it another way, the playing field was relatively level.

Not so today. Now, with the prevalence of subsidy publishing sites, and heaven help us, freelance contest sites, book designers are hard-pressed to explain what we do, and how we do it.

The Internet has ushered in opportunities that couldn’t be imagined a few years ago. I welcome the  opportunity to work with people from other states, and other countries, who need book design services. But there’s something…well…impersonal about the experience now.

Once upon a time, I met my prospective clients face to face. When they asked a question, and I answered it, there were actually facial expressions involved. Now, they can come and go with a simple click. I don’t have an opportunity to find out anything about their book or their needs. In a world of hyper-communications, I can lose the opportunity to work with someone before I even know they’re looking.

Like everyone else, I look for the best price when I buy retail products…the supermarket that has Oreo cookies on sale this week is more likely to get my business than others that don’t. But products and services are two different things, and they shouldn’t be shopped for in the same way. This message has been lost in our new, online world.

Products are identical from one store to the next. It’s easy to compare package size and features, then conclude that the cheaper price makes sense. Services, on the other hand, are intangible. A determination of quality must be made before purchase, including how well the human beings who offer the service will treat you, how quickly they will respond to your questions, how quickly they will produce your book, and how competent the book design will be.

Asking for a price before understanding these intangible, but crucial, factors doesn’t provide enough information. Services offered at the same or lower prices cannot be objectively compared — they must be experienced. Choosing a service provider with the lowest price can easily disqualify the best designer for YOU.

Low prices usually correlate with low experience. Higher price usually means that the designer has been around the block a few times and will spend much more time creating a truly unique book cover instead of cutting corners and using a template.

An experienced book designer  understands that a great deal of collaboration and communication is necessary to arrive at a cover design that works, and they build this time into their estimate. A beginner may not anticipate this and quote a price that covers the design time alone. When you exceed this amount of time, the beginner may get cranky, or abandon the project entirely.

An experienced designer also knows what NOT to do. We’ve fixed book covers for clients who chose a low-cost designer who didn’t understand that creating a file for print is very different than creating a file for the web.

An experienced designer knows that next month, or next year, or the year after that, they’ll be spending big bucks for new computers and software. Beginning designers who charge low prices often use outdated equipment or software that will cause problems at the printer.

An experienced designer incurs the expense to archive your job safely, so that two years from now or seven years from now, when it’s time to reprint  your book, the files will be available. Beginning designers who find that their low prices do  not provide an adequate living may move on to another career, taking your precious files with them.

You’ve spent a lot of time writing your book. When it’s time to shop for the good design you need to help it sell, my recommendation is to buy experience…after you TALK with the person who will provide it, and determine if they are the partner you need. Yes, experience costs more, but you will receive true value for every dollar spent, and the process will be enjoyable rather than a nightmare.

Have questions about self-publishing or book design? Ask us! We’re happy to help. Learn more at https://1106design.com

Michele DeFilippo, owner, 1106 Design

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