Book Covers: Why So Nasty?
Reader Matthew Wigdahl recently wrote me with an interesting query:
"Hey, I also had a quick question for you. My colleagues and I were talking about a "Faded Stars" (working title) program in our school library, wherein we have some staff pick out a few of the old tattered books from the shelves and feature them somehow. As we pulled old books to consider, we got to talking about the (I’m just going to say it) ugliness of many of them. For example, we have a copy of Mr. Popper’s Penguins with no dust jacket and bound in what appears to be cardboard covered with gray house paint. We started wondering if anyone prints new dust jackets for old books. I did a little research and found several websites who do this for rare books, at a high cost. Do you know of any publishers or organizations who print shiny new covers for older (children’s!?) books? It seems like it would be a great service for libraries. We got to brainstorming and thought we might even have students draw new covers for the books. Anything to give them new life."
Okay, I’m just going to take a step back here and say that this is a brilliant idea. Picture it. You’re a librarian with a small budget. You want to sex up the 10+ years old children’s books in your collection, particularly the ratty ones, but you don’t have the money to buy new books. Besides, that ancient edition of Prince Caspian is still good, it just happens to look like this:
When, if you had the chance to buy something bright and shiny, it could look like this:
So you go to the Harper Collins website and order some new bookcovers for your books. The publisher has been careful to include a list of different sizes, so make sure you pick the right one. Badda bing, badda boom, you now look like you own a whole new collection of shiny, beautiful books. And as long as the insides are still in one piece, it’s all good.
Now I can see publishers getting all wary, worrying that new sparkly covers would cut into their booksales. But basically, in my experience hardcover books are never replaced when they need new covers. They’re replaced when they fall to pieces, are covered in chocolate, are eaten by the dog, etc. etc. And if you get kids reading sparkly library copies (interiors unchanged) then they in turn are going to want to go to the bookstore to buy the books themselves. It’s win-win! Libraries can compete with bookstores in terms of pretty books on the shelves. Publishers can earn money in new and exciting ways.
In a way, my library does this with our VHS tapes. Oh yeah , we still circulate VHS. Not everything is available on DVD these days, I’m afraid. Plus I had a man in here yesterday praising the skies above for our VHS edition of The Red Balloon. Baffling but true. And when I put a tape’s cover inside a bright and shiny new box, it’s given a whole new lease on life. Suddenly Beethoven II is looking a lot nicer to the kids. What can I say? We’re a generation of magpies.
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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