Packaging Can Mean Everything

“Don’t judge a book by its cover,” they say—but as a book publisher I can tell you that the cover is exactly how most people do judge books! Especially when you’re selling a product through retailers, the name of the product, the design of the package, and the sell copy make all the difference in the world.

The first resume book I published was called Paper Tiger and sported a cover picture of the same animal. The sales were abysmal. We retitled it The Resume Handbook, gave it a powerful all-type cover, and bingo: the sales took off!

When we first launched our business software line, the sell-through was weak, and my staff blamed the packaging, which I found hard to believe because I had designed it myself! Unbeknownst to me, others in my office came up with a great new design—which I finally agreed to try—and our software sales took off!

Creative Packaging Sells

If you have an MBA like me, then you’re going to be tempted to stick with very standard-shaped packaging—on paper, the numbers always look better. Not only does it take less time to design and have a lower die cost, but also you can run it with your other standard designs and have great economies of scale. However, when you walk around a retail store, it’s the odd-shaped packages that stand out and get attention.

I published a book called 365 TV-Free Activities That You Can Do with Your Child. The content was not much different than that of several hundred other books on kids’ activities. But the packaging really stood out. We went for a very small format, just 4 × 6 inches, with a very high page count, 480 pages, making it look almost square, more like a toy than a book. We sold more than 500,000 copies.

Make the Package Pop

When in doubt on packaging, I’d go bright and brassy rather than light and classy. It’s so important to stand out on that retail shelf and get noticed. If your product is picked up first, the buyer will spend more time with it and be more likely to buy it than the next product he or she looks at.

A buyer at a national chain told us that he loved our packages because they were bright, were easy to find on the shelf, and looked lively and accessible. Unfortunately, he also told other publishers to go out and copy what we were doing.

How Good Is Your Packaging?

It is hard to do great packaging, and sometimes, because you’re so close to it, it’s hard even to know whether your packaging is good or not.

For years after starting my book publishing business, I thought our packaging was great. Our customers and sales reps never said anything—after all, they were used to it, and it wasn’t too much worse than what other small, struggling publishers did. But as I began to try to line up new distribution overseas, the Australians and the Canadians were very candid with me: “You need new packaging!” they told me.

Since then, I’ve gone crazy on design. I hired a super-talented designer with an ad agency background, and we often budgeted two designers for every book cover. Sometimes we went through dozens of cover designs for a single important book.

Takeaways You Can Use

  • Creative packaging sells: don’t be afraid to stand out!
  • Go bright and brassy over light and classy.Get honest appraisals: your packaging may need an upgrade.