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Why Do So Many Book Covers Look the Same? Blame Getty Images.

25 September 2019

From AIGA Eye on Design:

If you’re caught in Los Angeles traffic or awaiting a New York subway, odds are good that one of Matthias Clamer’s images is right there with you. Clamer photographs the promotional stills for a ton of network, studio, and streaming platform productions, from Fargo and Atlanta to Shadows and Glow. At any given moment, three or four posters featuring his photography dominate skylines and tunnels. For Clamer, the novelty of seeing them has understandably worn off a bit.

“In L.A. and New York, you see the same poster, like 30 times,” he said from his home in Los Angeles. “They plaster all the subway stations and buses. If it’s something you love, then you’re proud.”

But until I reached out to him, Clamer wasn’t aware that an image he took 15 years ago was ubiquitous in a different, perhaps more permanent, universe. It’s titled, “Naked Woman Sleeping on Gravel,” and can be found on the Getty Images website, along with 1,612 other Clamer images available for rights-managed exclusive usage. It also serves as the dominant art on the cover of at least 11 books.

The book cover design world, it turns out, has something of an all-star squad of stock and archival image that show up on book covers time and time again. James Morrison, an editor, designer, and avid reader who lives in Adelaide, Australia, has been tracking the squad for about two decades. “I think the first one I spotted was a photo called, ‘Man in Fog,’ from 1935, by Arthur Tanner,” Morrison says.

. . . .

“Man in Fog” delivers exactly what the title promises—a shadowy figure, noir to the grayscale bone, smoking a pipe in the inky foreground. It does not take a decoder ring to figure out why such a mysterious man would land on the cover of a slew of sleuth novels by the likes of Agatha Christie, Alan Furst, Somerset Maugham, and Georges Simeon. Some of Simeon’s series of Inspector Maigret tales feature a cropped “Man in Fog” as a logo in the upper left hand corner, which is where Morrison first spied him. An image like “Man in Fog” can be quite evocative, Morrison said, until you start seeing it everywhere. “And the more I looked, the more books featuring it I found,” he said. “This would have been around 20 years ago. It was only when I started blogging, very late in the day, that I had an outlet to inflict this on other people.”

Link to the rest at AIGA Eye on Design

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7 Comments to “Why Do So Many Book Covers Look the Same? Blame Getty Images.”

  1. Although they are often just a bit different, “Starship in front of a galaxy” is almost as cliche.

    and don’t get me started on “Man who can’t button up his shirt”.

    • LOL. Can’t top that observation, Dave…

      I would note that I see very few covers that came from Getty Images. Of course, I mostly browse other indie books – and Getty licenses are way too pricey for most of us.

  2. Why do the covers look tbe same?
    Pigeonholing, lazy cover designers, and inertia.
    Not exactly a secret, is it?

    It’s a business where covers are divorced from the store they represent and where an all-text cover is considered daring.

  3. The reason the covers are the same is the same reason there are labels in the grocery store.

    They convey the right message.

    Leather-clad woman jumping in front of rainbow explosion? Urban fantasy.

    Couple in a clinche? Romance

    “Another fucking elf?”* Fantasy

    * Tolkien reference. Google it.

    It’s hard to argue with success.

  4. All images to AVOID if you specifically do NOT want to be categorized as, say, a Romance.

    Nothing against Romances – they are huge sellers – but their readers know what they want, and what they want is NOT a mainstream novel with a love story in it.

    The problem is portraying a negative by NOT using a barechested male who spends too much time in a gym has no opposite that would serve to separate genres.

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