If you’re looking for the most anticipated books of 2019, chances are your search will start with Google and end at Amazon. Chances are even better that one book cover will consistently jump off the screen: Marlon James’s Black Leopard, Red Wolf, its graphic white title entwining with a writhing, jewel-toned print of a shape-shifting beast. This first book in the Booker Prize–winning author’s Dark Star trilogy, a queer, Afrofuturist fantasy series, has already been called the “African Game of Thrones.” (Another tagline: the literary Black Panther.) It’s clearly being positioned by publishers and booksellers as a cultural icon, with a blazing cover to match.
Scroll on through the best-of lists and other titles will pop just as loudly: The title of Pitchaya Sudbanthad’s Bangkok Wakes to Rain gleams in gold letters over a drippy green abstraction of leaves. Helen Oyeyemi’s Ginger Bread shouts in bold yellow against a lightly ombré coral backdrop, its plane broken by a black crow grasping a gleaming tangerine. And Kristen Arnett’s Mostly Dead Things features a twisted, hand-drawn flamingo on a field of avocado green, with the title scrawled over it in what appears to be a fat white sharpie.
None of these titles is available yet, but anywhere you find them online will likely direct you to preorder on Amazon. [Ed.: Guilty.] In fact, their covers are designed to ensure that you will. At a time when half of all book purchases in the U.S. are made on Amazon — and many of those on mobile — the first job of a book cover, after gesturing at the content inside, is to look great in miniature. That means that where fine details once thrived, splashyprints have taken over, grounding text that’s sturdy enough to be deciphered on screens ranging from medium to miniscule.
If books have design eras, we’re in an age of statement wallpaper and fatty text. We have the internet to thank — and not just the interface but the economy that’s evolved around it. From the leather-bound volumes of old to lurid mass-market paperbacks, book covers were never designed in a vacuum. Their presentation had everything to do with the way books were made, where and how and to whom they were sold. And when you look at book covers right now, what you’ll see blaring back at you, bold and dazzling, is a highly competitive marketing landscape dominated by online retail, social media, and their curiously symbiotic rival, the resurgent independent bookstore.
Link to the rest at Vulture and thanks to DaveMich for the tip.