Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Covering the classics

I've been on a writing jag all morning, so I'm grateful to Kristin Gillenwater for keeping an eye on the blogisphere for me. She just e-mailed to tip me off that on November 30, Penguin Books will release six classic novels with blank covers. They're hoping readers will create their own covers and give the books as gifts.

Here's part of last week's announcement from The Penguin Blog:

According to consumer research conducted on what factors matter to people when they decide whether or not to pick up a book in a bookshop, the cover design comes out as most important. So this might be the stupidest thing we've ever done.

However ... Just over two months ago I was standing in the corridor talking with my boss about books, and suddenly we had a new idea: why not publish our favourite books without front covers?! And that's what we're doing. It's been a secret project with about seven people involved, and from the idea two months ago we now have six books that are ready to go into the shops and onto www.penguin.co.uk at the end of November.

In essence, we've started a new series because if the first six work we'll publish more. The series was named My Penguin by our rather marvellous Creative Director, who came up with the name after about two minutes.

Uh...catchy name. But my gut says this approach won't sell a lot of books. This is one of those cute things that you smile at and then forget almost immediately.

The books' titles and authors' names appear only on the spines. The front covers are white, and are unmarked except for a tiny Penguin logo in the lower-right corner. Here's what a copy of Jane Austen's Emma looks like.

Penguin is inviting anyone who creates a cover to scan it and send a .jpg file to be added to this online gallery. There are already about a dozen bookcovers up. (I like the "Hangman" cover for Crime and Punishment.)

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Marianne McA said...

I think they will sell: be a nice gift for Christmas. Tasteful, personalised, and inexpensive. I suppose what I doubt is that it would be more than a novelty - it's the sort of thing that would be fun once, but would only be really precious to you if the person who designed the cover had real talent.
Brilliant idea from Penguin's pov - no royalties, no charge for cover design - and if they use books already in their classics range, no editing either. And they can charge twice as much! [On Amazon anyway - the Jan 2007 Penguin classic version of Emma costs £1.99, whereas the My Penguin version costs £4.]

Susan Kaye said...

I have to agree that this is great for Penguin's bottomline.

I'm in the process of working with a designer for my book cover. What seems to be so-o-o-o simple from the outside is remarkably not! There have been a couple of times that out of frustration I've thought about a blank cover, but not having the imprint of Penguin, or a name as an classic author to carry the sales, I better go back to the drawing board.

Brenda Coulter said...

Jeepers, Marianne, I figured they'd be a little pricier, but not twice as much.

Poor Susan. ;-) I'm glad I don't have to design my book covers. It's much more fun to complain about them after somebody else has designed them!

ivanwalsh said...


you can get free copies of most of these classics on the www.gutenberg.org site.

worth a trawl...