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The Culture Of Academic Book Covers


I have never understood why so many academic books have abstract, irrelevant pieces of artwork on their covers, when it would not be difficult to add a photograph or sketch related to the topic of the book.

This book, for example – The Cultures Of Work Organizations, by Harrison Truce and Janice Beyer – could have a photograph of people in an office environment. Instead, it has a painting of a red and orange splotch, by Merle Krumper.

The publisher, Prentice-Hall, employed a jacket designer for this book – Bruce Keneslaar. Bruce, if you’re out there, can you explain? What does the red splotch have to do with work cultures?

13 comments to The Culture Of Academic Book Covers

  • Having worked in 2 bookstores, my opinion is simply that they churn out the books as cheaply and quickly as possible, knowing that the cover is not so important to sales of those books as much as with an impulse purchase.

    • J Clifford

      Is 30 to 60 minutes’ work really judged not to be worth it? Or even the fee paid to a photography service? Depressing.

      • There’s also the work of a publisher dealing with an author who might be fussy about a picture. I guess the publishers don’t want the bother, so they tell the authors that they are using the nondescript illustration and don’t want to waste any time discussing otherwise. Yes, depressing, but capitalism has even worse effects than that!

      • Those are some of the many reasons that many authors publish their own books.

  • J Clifford

    Have you published any of your own books, Korky? If so, did you have a positive experience?

    • Not yet, but I’m seriously considering it, J. Clifford.
      Some of my friends have self-published, and like it.
      One got tricked into using a vanity press, though.
      I’d prefer a real publishing house, but can’t find one interested in my manuscript.

  • henry gibson

    Here’s another absolutely pointless and useless “article”. To answer the author, however I would like to state that if you can’t discern the patterns and images from that book cover’s “abstract” art to clearly see how it is very, very relevant to the book’s subject matter, then you either are not educated enough, aren’t trying enough, or don’t have enough cognition to grasp it. Wow, it is so cool, clear, and absolutely aligned with the book’s subject. It’s uncanny. “red splotch”? That’s really funny; you almost sound like you really don’t understand what it is about.

    • J Clifford

      Uh, okay. Spell it out for me, then, Henry. What’s it about?

    • Even if you get it, Henry, that’s not enough.
      It should be obvious to all potential buyers (before purchase) or else it’s not doing the job a book cover is meant to do.

      That goes for titles, too.
      For instance, if you don’t get the in-joke of a title until after you’ve read the book, then it’s too late to do its job, which is to sell the book.

  • I guess it’s a Rorschach test.
    Looks like a crotch to me, with thighs on the right.

  • In my original reply, I was focusing on the difference between an academic book, which doesn’t rely on impulse sales, and a popular book, which does.
    The cover and title are more important for the latter.
    For the former, sales are mostly to students who are required to read it, not impulse readers.

  • I’m an expert in titles and naming, by the way, and I consult for free sometimes with people I like, such as you, J. Clifford.

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