Getty Images / Book Covers

So, I’ve noticed that more and more children’s/YA book covers use photographs from the online image collection Getty Images. Although it is not “wrong” and I should not feel judgmental about it — I feel “cheated” whenever I see that copyright note at the back jacket flap, stating that the image is not created specifically for or inspired especially by the text of the book.

I DO judge books by their covers, since I am a physical/materialistic book lover and care deeply about every creative aspect of the book, as an object of art. And I must admit that even though so many of these covers look quite pretty and pristine and attractive, they lack a depth, or “soul,” that speaks to me as a reader — especially AFTER reading the stories contained within. One recent example is the cover for Miss Spitfire: a blurry child’s hand holding a green apple… WHY an Apple? I guess Apple is a “teachery” symbol — but apple has little connection to Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan’s emotional journey… the DOLL (Helen’s first word) or the PUMP/WATER (Helen’s final breakthrough objects) would have served so much better, or a powerful scene with the two main characters having one of their many conflicts — and artwork INSPIRED by the story would have been so much more affective than Found Photos.

What gives? Pricing alone? Lack of hired talent? Anyone can shed some light on this?


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9 responses to “Getty Images / Book Covers

  1. liz

    I would, a million times over, rather see an attractive but irrelevant cover instead of a factual, ugly cover. If using the stock photography means we get nice covers, I'll take it. I see what you mean – it's nice if the cover matches the story – but my whole concern is that the kids / teens get the books off the shelf.


  2. J. L. Bell

    The digitization of picture libraries—and Getty Images is one of the biggest and easiest to use—makes finding images much quicker than it's ever been before. A designer used to working with photo images can come up with several prototypes in about the same time it would take to find an artist, much less get sketches back.

    Furthermore, the industry seems to feel that today's readers prefer photographs. Consider the reissue of the Wilder Little House books with photographic covers.

    I suspect that underlying that trend is concern that kids aren't so interested in historical fiction today. Photography, especially apple-bright, apple-crisp photography, gives a book a more contemporary look. Note that the covers for Miss Spitfire and the new Little House give few clues that they're set in great-great-grandma's day.


  3. fairrosa

    I am totally for gripping covers that will "sell" the books to children. And yes, these covers seem quite attractive. And believe me, I can't stand poorly done covers. However, wouldn't it be better if the covers are done with photography specifically shot with the meaning of the interior in mind? There must be good reasons behind this current trend. I just think that as readers/critics, we can and should definitely demand better matches to the story (even if the photos are "found" on Getty Images.)


  4. J. L. Bell

    How much more would you be willing to pay for those more appropriate covers? Because setting up a photo shoot, especially with models, is much more expensive than licensing an existing image.

    I, too, think kids are miffed when covers don't match what's inside a book. But I think the economic consideration above is why publishers are willing to miff kids a little.


  5. fairrosa

    I do want to find out exactly how much difference in book pricing this will make from those in the industry.


  6. J. L. Bell

    Here's the start of a comparison: I could license the image on Miss Spitfire from Getty Images for a book cover for $1,050. That price would probably be lower if I had a steady account with the firm.

    I could probably assemble a professional photographer, a semi-professional model, and an amateur apple and come up with a similar image for less money. But that would take more time, and I couldn't be sure of the result until after my company had spent the money.

    In contrast, it took me only three minutes to search the Getty Images website for "apple," "hand," and "green." It offered dozens of possible images to try. With my free account there, I could download half a dozen images of various sorts and try out cover ideas, show them to Sales, even show them to Barnes & Noble.

    And during that process we'd know exactly what the image was going to look like in the end, and we wouldn't pay anything until we'd decided what we wanted.


  7. fairrosa

    I can definitely see how this is all very convenient and helpful to the designing folks and the publishers… then, maybe what I want is for them to find the BEST matches?

    A blurry hand holding a green apple does not speak to me either the title or Miss Spitfire, nor the idea of Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan's intense bond; similarly, a hanging metal wire skeleton does not convey the very visually metaphorical medical skeletal specimen in Bone by Bone by Bone. Don't get me wrong: I don't think the "old fashioned" cover designers or artists always "got" the books right, either. I'm picky that way.

    Maybe what I do want is better uses/manipulation of these images and better "search results"?


  8. Jennie

    How do you feel about books that use paintings as covers? I'm thinking of the Penguin classics series– these paintings weren't designed for the books at all.

    Stock images are also really easy to manipulate. Look at this post by Fuse #8.

    Is your complaint maybe less with the stock photography and more with the poor choices being made by the designer when choosing stock photography?

    Because I'm behind you on poor choices.


  9. fairrosa

    As I said in the earlier comment:
    Maybe what I do want is better uses/manipulation of these images and better "search results"?

    Yup. The real issue lies in how these images are being used and whether they express the spirit of the books. Of course, that can be quite subjective and even with commissioned photographers and artists, many book covers fall short at some aspects: at "selling" the books to their intended audience or at creatively reflecting the content of the titles. I do see your point.


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