How Pelican Books Is Reimagining The Cover In The Age Of E-Books

Penguin’s storied non-fiction brand is trying to redefine the book cover, as well as bridge the gap between physical books and e-books.

The covers of our favorite books are doors that lead into their internal literary worlds, and that’s enough to make their designs important: a book’s cover is the focus point for our experience with it. But as we continue to replace physical books for e-books, covers have been downgraded from doors to mouseholes; tiny little thumbnails that we barely even see anymore on our busy Kindle library screens.


As part of their recent relaunch, Pelican Books–the non-fiction arm of Penguin Books, which originally ran from 1937 to 1984–wanted to make covers just as important for e-books as they are for physical books. Their solution was to make the cover a recurring element throughout a text: the central thematic element that ties together a volume’s design, whether physical or digital.

“When reading a book in print, we interact with the cover every time we open and close the book – we see it all the time, it reinforces our perception of the book in our minds,” Pelican book designer Matt Young told Creative Review. “Whereas when reading an ebook, the cover often has a much smaller role to play – reduced to a thumbnail, and sometimes never seen again once the book has been purchased. With Pelican, the cover is echoed throughout the entire book: each chapter begins with a full-page/full-screen chapter opener, acting as an important visual signpost and echoing the cover, reinforcing the brand and the series style.”

In addition to the question of what to do about the cover in the digital age, the relaunched Pelican is focusing on making their e-books every bit as polished feeling as their physical books, with beautiful typography that is the same in both print and online. But Pelican’s e-books also embrace the things that only e-books can do best: for example, fully interactive maps, animated charts and graphs, and easy-to-use footnotes.

Pelican Books can be purchased online at the official site, then read on any device through a responsive, in-browser e-book reader. I really dig what this storied brand is doing in the 21st century.

[h/t: Creative Review]