We've all heard the old idiom, "Don't judge a book by its cover." Some of us may even use it ourselves. It's a fantastic little phrase that expresses the reality that things aren't always as they appear, that looks aren't everying. But while I fully support this sentiment in the figuartive sense, when it comes down to a physical book, I can't disagree more.
A book's cover is perhaps its most important marketing tool. It's the reason a consumer picks up a book in the first place. In a room full of hardcovers, trade paperbacks, mass markets, box sets, etc. etc. we only have our eyes to guide us. If it doesn't catch our attention, we aren't picking it up. And if we aren't pricking it up, we aren't reading the cover copy and finding out what the book is about. And then we certainly aren't buying it. The same goes for book buyers, the bigwigs who decide what books the store will even sell. If they don't find a cover appealing--or at least anticipate the public finding it appealing--no way is it going into a store's inventory. Publishers have even been known to change cover art because an important buyer didn't like it. This is serious business.
But what about when a book is so well-known that most people already know what it's about? No one's eye needs catching, they just want the content. Like the Classics, for example.
Most house that publish classics do so en masse. They have a specific classics line full of books with simple, formulaic covers. These covers are more iconic than anything, trying to the get the consumer to buy the same Bloomsbury Classics edition over the Folgers Encriched Classics. Likely they're being forced to buy them anyway by a college or high school, so they are going to buy it one way or the other. The time has past for publishers to try to hook new consumers on these books. Or so we thought.
Penguin Classics Deluxe Editions has recently taken three classic novels, all of which could be construed as chick lit on some level, and redesigned them, giving each title a fresh, new, surrealist look. The books are even being described as "beach reads." Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights, and The Scarlet Letter would not be my personal idea of a beach read, but this new art just might draw in a new audience. Last year, Penguin did something along the same lines, using a cartoonist to draw up some new covers for classic novels like One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Lady Chatterly's Lover, and Frankenstein.
HarperPerrenial Classic Stories also updated its look to grab a new audience. Using brighter, bolder colors and a pop-up type photo of the author (I'm guessing?) give the books a much more modern, though kind of oddball and slightly creepy, feel.
Whether these tactics will work or not is hard to say. But it's clearly working for UK publisher Waterstone with their release of a re-vamped Wuthering Heights. The new edition has been designed to resemble Stephanie Meyers's Twilight series--it even displays a burst reading "Bella and Edward's favorite book--and as a result, WH has hit UK bestseller lists.
Shocking, but true. So, as you can see, the judging continues in full force. Kind of as it should.