Covers from the Past

I created my Book Chart becuse I wanted to be able to easily compare a large range of different book covers. I included a row of books from the 1980s, 1990s, 200s and 2010s to show the evolution of book covers. I was expecting to see subtle and detailed covers becoming bolder and more simple in the late 2000s and 2010s under the influence of thumbnails and greyscale.

Instead, I was surprise to see that the ’80s were a time of simple covers and bold fonts. When looking at the book chart you can see that John Le Carre’s The Russia House, Sidney Sheldon’s Rage of Angels and Danielle Steel’s Daddy all work well in thumbnail size, both in colour and in greyscale. The text is large enough to be competely legible in any size. The simple imagery, or total lack of imagery, means that the details cannot be lost in thumbnail size. There is little in the way of extra text, like taglines and recommendations, to clutter up the page.

JohnLeCarre_TheRussiaHouse   RageOfAngels   Daddy_by_Danielle_Steele

Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses doesn’t do so well. The text is large, but the font is so thin that it disappears in thumbnail size. The dark text becomes illegible against the dark background at thumbnail size. Stephen King’s Firestarter and James A. Michener’s Caribbean suffer from some small text and detailed artwork respectively.

1988_Salman_Rushdie_The_Satanic_Verses   Firestarter_novel   Mich_caribbean_1st_ed

There is a little more detail in the bestsellers of the 90s. There is more photography such as the horse’s eye in Nicholas Evans’ The Horse Whisperer and the boat in John Grisham’s The Testament.  There is more small text, The Celestine Prophecy is mostly illegible in thumbnail size. Cold Mountain and Assassins are both difficult to see in greyscale. The colours merge, making the text difficult to decipher.

The_book_cover_of_The_Testament   Thecelestineprophecy  TimLaHaye_Assassins

There are even more photograph covers in the bestsellers of 2000, as well as paintings, computer generated imagery and both large and small text. Compared to the homogenous covers of the 80s, the 2000s covers are a very diverse collection. Obviously, many of these don’t work well at all in greyscale. The complicated images and small print are lost in thumbnail.

The-Last-Song-movie-tie-in-book   Dreamcatchernovel   Harry_Potter_and_the_Deathly_Hallows

2010s, so far, have followed the trend of the 2000s. The covers are varied in colour, complexity and detail. From James Patterson’s simple and bold Kill Alex Cross cover, which could have been designed purely to jump out at a casual browser, to Stephen King’s 11/22/63 which is filled with tiny text and details. Even Fifty Shades of Grey, originally popular on the internet has text that is fairly small in thumbnail (although perhaps the now-iconic cover image is all that’s necessary).

Patterson_KillAlexCross%2010-2011   11-22-63   50ShadesofGreyCoverArt

So why was I wrong in my prediction? Why have covers become more, not less, complex? It could be due to increased competition as more books are published every year. It could also be due to improved production methods that allow more colour and detail on book covers. However, searching out the reasons could be an entire essay in itself. I will stick to my topic of ebook covers and in my next post look at how well the complicated covers work as ebook covers.