Troubling trendlet: grouping books by colour

In what can only be a sign of the decline of Western Civilization, there’s “a trendlet … kicking up dust on decor sites: grouping books on the shelf according to hue.”

Yes, you read that correctly. Certain design magazines and blogs want to convince readers to group books by hue—not by author surname, not by subject matter, and certainly not by Dewey decimal number.

To make matters worse, Random House is purported to be in on the trend.

According to Sophie Kohn in her article “Dewey decimal redux: should we organize books by colour?” (Globe and Mail, September 19, 2012), Random House will be launching a “Books are Beautiful” series in October 2012:

[thirty] iconic titles each assigned a specific shade by colour specialist Pantone … so that the collection forms a rainbow on your shelf. (The edges of the pages are spray-painted to match, ensuring that the book is a physical work of art from every conceivable angle—except if you open it.)

We hold out hope that this is a hoax since we haven’t yet found confirmation on Random House’s website or Twitter account.

Feeling brave enough to read the entire article?


4 thoughts on “Troubling trendlet: grouping books by colour

  1. David Dressler says:

    The idea of grouping books on the shelf by colour is clearly illogical from a reader’s or librarian’s perspective. Since publishers are not illogical, we have to look at improbable yet logical explanations for this phenomenon.

    The publishing industry is having a hard time selling books that go on the shelf. Online publishing is taking a huge percent of their market. Could this ploy be a way of selling more books in the store? I suspect so; here is why. First, it might (not sure) be faster to group books by colour than by subject when they arrive in boxes in the bookstores. Never mind reading titles or looking at sub-titles to find out what the book is about and grouping them with similar titles and sub-titles, especially when the subjects are not identically worded. Just glance at the predominant cover colour and throw all similarly coloured covers together. Colour recognition takes a fraction of a second but cognitive recognition (reading, grouping according to subject meaning) takes substantially longer. Now the books are on the shelves faster. No having to separate them into different sections, except by colour. Also, stores can hire non-English-speaking people to do the sorting, since they only have to group by colour and not by being able to read titles and sub-titles. This may cost less in labour.

    Second, there may be some new research that actually shows that people pick books by colour! Covers are designed to be visually attractive. It is the first thing toward which the eye is drawn. If browsing, isn’t there a tendency to pick up books with certain colours and designs? It might not be the topic you are looking for, but doesn’t this sometimes happen? If it is the topic you want, and it has a colour you are drawn to, would you buy that book as opposed to another in the same category with a less attractive colour?

    Third, if the stores carry this trend forward, people will be forced to spend more time looking for what they want because it could be anywhere in the store! My guess is this will certainly frustrate the majority of book-buyers, and if it goes on, people will gravitate toward online book buying where, hopefully, this colourful practice is not to be found. But it could also mean more people buy books they had not originally intended to purchase, simply because it is too much trouble to go find it in the store, and so they buy a book whose colour goes with their dress.

    I may not have identified the actual logical reason behind this trend, but I suspect I am getting near to it and that the colour of money is behind it.


    • … an insightful commentary, David. As you say, “the colour of money is behind it,” and it’s an attempt to sell books based on appearance rather than intrinsic merit. While we’re all for publishers devising myriad ways to sell physical books, we are, nonetheless, saddened. The colour of money, indeed.


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