I recently bought an iPad, downloaded the iBooks and Kindle apps and started scouting for freebies.

What I found was a wealth of copyright expired classics swaddled within the damp, soiled rags of negligent designers.

In this day and age, classics should be treated with a little more care and attention…and here is my idea.

Amateur, student, professional designers should be donating beautiful cover artwork to dress these epic texts up so they can continue living long and productive lives for new readers who maybe put off with such staid and boring covers.

At the top here is a ‘Pale Fire’ by Vladimir Nabokov.  On the left is the cover listed at Open Library, on the right is a new one done by Stephen Doyle for the Nabokov Specimen Box Project. I’ve never read any Nabokov but I know which cover would make me want to read him.

Look at the state of ‘On Liberty’ by John Stuart Mill. That isn’t design, that’s one colour, a font and a dash of layout.

His name isn’t even centred correctly!

This is the man’s grave; untended and unloved.

“Every great movement must experience three stages: ridicule, discussion, adoption.”

This is the first step then; ridiculing the embarrassing covers of these great texts. Titans of knowledge in an Oompa-Loompas body.

There are a load of great places to download free ebooks, I spent a while getting a bunch at ManyBooks.net, Open Library and Project Gutenberg. Some have decent covers from reissued, modern reprints but many have shockingly awful ones.

So how would you get designers to donate covers?

Well, Open Library are halfway there.  They have a ‘Manage Covers‘ section for every ebook where anyone can upload a new cover.

Fine. But how does that get designers stimulating new readers with kickass covers?  It doesn’t. What needs to happen is this…

A designer should be able to upload a new cover – earning him a credit which links back to his company/portfolio website, thus increasing his exposure.

Next, readers then vote for their favourite cover by choosing one to download with their book. The most popular cover is the default one on the site.  A designer who has currently got the most popular design on an out-of-copyright classic such as ‘Treasure Island‘ is going to be getting quite a few eyeballs, thus enhancing his reputation

Check out some of the book cover redesigns I found after a quick search; M.S.Corley, Hannah Curson and Jim Tierney.  All top quality and all personal or college projects, none of them commissioned. Just spare designs sitting around not doing very much when they could be out there.

Linking designers with copyright expired, classic ebooks would provide these giants of the written word with a fresh, contemporary look, keeping them relevant for new readers to discover so they can, in turn, stand on their shoulders.

I mean, just look at the cover of ‘Common Sense‘ by Thomas Paine – it makes no sense at all!

2 Responses to “Calling Book Cover Designers! Classic eBooks Need Your Help!”

  1.  July 5th, 2011 at 6:57 pm George Oates says:

    Hi Ben –

    Yes to more beautiful covers! As you note, it is possible to upload/manage covers on http://openlibrary.org, and I would love to see more designers uploading their cover art!

    Even though it’s a little clunky, it is possible to add a cover art designer as a “contributor” for an edition today. When you go to edit an edition, you should see the Contributors section, from which you can choose a role like “Cover Designer.” Another option might be to simply note designer/attribution/links in the edit comment box as you add a new cover.

    I’d also be very happy to promote any competition or initiative you start around lovely covers on the Open Library blog.


    George Oates
    Director, Open Library

  2.  July 5th, 2011 at 7:12 pm Ben says:

    Hi George, thanks for replying! First off, Open Library is amazing, congrats on that.

    Yeah, the option to upload multiple covers for one book is great and maybe something that could be highlighted more.

    Giving designers credit by linking to their own websites and adding voting abilities would be a technical effort on your behalf but something to think about 🙂

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