Friday, June 08, 2007

Split Decisions

I’ve infrequently commented in my other blog, The Rap Sheet, on the habit of unknowing or cost-cutting book designers reusing the photographs employed previously on the covers of other volumes for their own new work. However, there seems to be an even more ubiquitous trend hitting publishing houses of late: what we might call “split covers.” These are book jackets that use not just one photograph, but two, often separated by titles and author names. Start paying attention, and see just how many of these split covers you spot while traipsing through bookstore aisles.

I can’t decide whether the proliferation of these divided fronts is due to the inability of their designers to choose between a couple of evocative shots, or because they’re simply trying too hard to attract every conceivable reader with their imagery. But in any case, there’s an abundance of these split covers decorating the mystery and crime-fiction shelves.

(And no, you’re not imagining that the jackets from Charlie Huston’s Already Dead and Derek Raymond’s He Died with His Eyes Open bear a remarkable similarity. This is indicative of designers resorting to the use of cheaper stock photos.)

The same design concept has been adopted by Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, which is beginning to reissue Ross Macdonald’s 18 novels featuring Los Angeles private eye Lew Archer, beginning with The Way Some People Die (1951) and The Ivory Grin (1952):

A number of fiction works, both hardcover and paperback, have been dressed up with divided jackets:

However, this trend is by no means confined to the fiction racks. I’ve found even more examples of it elsewhere in bookstores:

What’s the likelihood that pointing out these duplicative designs is going to propel art directors and publishers to pursue any different creative direction than they’re already following? Not great; somebody, somewhere has undoubtedly determined that split covers sell, which is why we see so damn many of them. And isn’t imitation supposed to be the sincerest form of flattery?

On the other hand, how many of these divided book covers can there be on shelves and end caps before buyers stop being able to tell them apart easily? Once marketing departments get wind of that trouble, you can bet we’ll be on to the next book cover design trend fast.

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