Judging a book by its cover…

One can only feel sorry for the book cover. Blockbuster films are branded in a singular style and music albums are sold around the world inside a universal sleeve, but the poor book cover is subject to massive change as it goes from territory to territory and can even change from one day to the next. One Day indeed, a good example to take. The film hits cinemas and suddenly all bookstores house two copies of the same title, the only difference their covers. But what effect does re-jacketing have and is it right?

A book cover portrays the essence of a book and so why should the newest
blockbuster or popular TV series, which themselves can often go down completely different paths to the author’s original ideas, take all the glory on the bookshelf? The UK book market is a competitive one, so it’s true that books need to scream ‘Pick me up’ / ‘Buy Me’, and this may mean covers going along with current trends and popular ideas to attract customers, but should this stray into capturing the TV/film audience too with Hollywood stars gracing book covers as well as film covers, or are these separate audiences which should remain distinct?

A couple of years ago, Emily Bronte’s ‘Wuthering Heights’ was given a contemporary gothic makeover with the cover very clearly going after Stephanie Meyer’s audience with its Twilight style. Does this make you, jumping to the defence of Bronte’s style, boil with anger, or do you instead think it’s a clever way of opening up a classic to a new, younger audience who wouldn’t otherwise have picked up the book. Does it seem wrong that works by such literary greats are marketed with the sense that they are a pale imitation of a modern phenomenon which is a world apart for their essence? Similarly, a mass of back catalogues of classics are re-issued with misleading chick-lit covers and is this detrimental and event insulting or again a way of opening up the story to an audience otherwise blind to its existence?

Book buyers spend just 0.8 seconds looking at a jacket so that first blast at getting the cover right is vital. So once a book cover has been designed so meticulously to make it an accurate portrayal of the contents, why mess around with it? To a person who values literature for what it is, book suffers from the whims of mass-market makeovers.

Also, rather interestingly, books are marketed alternatively in different countries, where the change of book cover can also be accompanied by a dramatic change in title. Of course, this may be due to a logistical difference in translation, but what about the often seen discrepancies between UK/US versions of titles? One example is Philip Pullman’s ‘Northern Lights’, which is known as ‘The Golden Compass’ in the US. Tastes do differ around the world, in everything from food and music to fashion, and books are no different, so is it acceptable to change the rules when the book leaves for foreign shores? Or is there a more universal ideal to reading?

However, it must be pointed out that cover images, and even titles, are chosen, in large, by publishers rather than authors. So even the original designs these days are always down to the marketing value of said cover and so making new versions to keep up with current TV/movie advances is only keeping in line with the marketing strategy, if marketing is taken to mean opening the book to as large an audience as possible.

So it’s over to you? How much impact does altering a book’s cover and title have? Should we judge a book by its cover at all? Regardless of its aesthetic appeal on the shelf, it’s always the same book inside nonetheless. Do you think a book is a consumer product like any other and so publishers are just using the best marketing practice to manipulate their readers and open up the book’s market? Or are changes completely unnecessary; is a good book a good book regardless and should be left alone? Share your thoughts below…