28 June 2010

Why Publishers Use Stock Photos for Book Covers

Publishers Weekly just ran a story by Judith Rosen about the making of the cover for a Young Adult novel. This story was, of course, part of the book’s marketing campaign, positioning it as a Big Title for January 2011. (Which means that this blog entry has also become part of that campaign.)

It would be a mistake to read the article as a description of how most book covers are assembled. Most books don’t have the budget that’s behind Sara Shepard’s The Lying Game. Not only is that book in a hot genre, but the author has a track record from her earlier series Pretty Little Liars, which now has popular exposure in the 99th percentile of all YA books as the basis of a TV show.

Those expectations allowed Alloy Entertainment and HarperCollins to spend $25,000 on a photo shoot with a model; photography team; and stylists for wardrobe, hair, and makeup. That’s even far above a typical cover budget for Alloy at $18,000.

In fact, it’s enough to professionally produce two entire short novels—even the covers. It looks like any firm could buy the photo on the right for less than $1,000 through iStockphoto.com. It’s not appropriate for The Lying Game, but it could be right for another story, and it took me about five minutes to find with no need to deal with stylists.

Stock photos have another advantage for publishing firms. A designer can create several comps using alternate possibilities, and everyone can see what the final product will look like. There’s no need to gamble on a photo shoot coming out well. To be sure, there are disadvantages, like the same photo showing up on different books. But dollar for dollar, using stock photos lets publishers produce more books.

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