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Page Protectors to Head Turners: Journey of the Book Cover Through Human History
In the earliest history of book production, when it needed months and years to be copied, bookmakers used leather covers to protect the book’s pages against damage. Other bookmakers were preparing copies for the consumption of the affluent, whose covers quickly transformed from merely bearing a picture and the book title, to a piece of art made of ivory, gold, stones or luxury leather.
The book cover industry witnessed several changes in European and American capitals since the end of nineteenth century until the end of World War I. From being a strong wall between pages of authorship and the world, book covers have gradually developed to become a vital promotional tool. Great artists and designers like Alexander Rodchenko from Russia, lent their artistry to book covers.
The prosperity of the book market and its eventual entry into commercial competition has contributed to developing the book cover designing process in order to attract the reader. Book covers have now long been within the realm of mainstream artistic work, preoccupying the artist with color effects, shapes, mechanisms of the human eye, and their overall ability to remain in people’s memories.
The trajectory of such developments can be traced back easily. The cover of a first edition book issued in the late nineteenth century, compared to the version used on the latest edition of the book today, will bear testimony to the radical changes that have occurred in the arts of book cover design.
Several covers for one book
The comparisons reveal the role of the cover in achieving the demand for the book and increasing the volume of sales. A report titled “Revolution of designing book covers” published by “Philip Snack” revealed clear differences in designing the covers of timeless literary works.
The report provides the differences and the visual effect occurred in the first design of George Orwell’s famous novel “1984 AD”, whereas the book was published in 1950 with a hand-writing cover revealing an old feature, where the numbers were written in words on a dark green background, while the cover of the book’s new edition designed by artist “Jones Pen” achieved great admiration at the level publishers and won prizes at the level of book covers. The new edition has drawn a graphical photo of a character with several eyes and interesting features, putting the novel’s concept on the cover with a lot of curiosity.
The report about the novel “Alice in Wonderland” revealed the same thing, whereas the first cover of the novel in 1898 AD presents a girl with red dress escaping from playing cards and warding them off by her hands. The title was written with several curvatures. The cover is only in red and sand colors.
Unlike this cover, the cover of the edition issued in 2015, revealed various aspects of life, richness and movement. It highlights change in colour, movement and font between the two covers and shows the characters inside a storm of papers and white stripes on a blue background.
Can We Judge a Book by Its Cover?
International designer and artist, Derek Murphy, revealed in a television interview the secrets of book covers and how it plays a crucial role in augmenting a book’s chances in becoming a ‘bestselling book’. He elucidated a ‘balanced relation’ between the content of a book and its design, saying that just a good cover without being supported by content, and vice versa, cannot make a bestseller. However,
if the pages of a book that has a spectacular cover read beautifully, it is bound
to be placed on the shelf designated to bestsellers.
Murphy noted that a book cover designer’s foremost focus while designing a book cover should be to place themselves in the reader’s place and assess whether the cover they are designing will make a prospective reader stop and notice the book. Unless the reader develops an immediate interest in the book, the design is not successful. According to Murphy, “The cover is the gate, which motivates the reader to enter the world of that particular book; a succinct visual expression of the book’s content.”
Murphy explained that the book’s subject matter will of course largely define the design style, and in that sense, serves as the designer’s main inspiration. The cover of science fiction stories, for instance, cannot be dealt with the same as a research title, children books or other genres. He indicated, “This obligates a designer to use certain tools, like digital painting, photography, typography and other techniques, depending on the need of the book in question.”
The Arabic Book Cover
Given the history of cover designs and its importance in making the Arabic book, both the professional researcher and keen observer will discover that the history of Arabic culture did not record establishment of schools dedicated to the art of book cover designing. Resultantly, several writings in the Arab region have been wrapped with typographic book covers depicting just the book title, since the 1920s until recent times.
Covers have been often mixed with ‘Poster Art’, as seen in several works that appeared in the 1960s and 70s with covers resembling movie posters. This was characteristic specifically of the Egyptian creative experience, where artists, who were creating movie posters were the ones designing book covers.
In addition, the nature of the publishing industry itself has been largely perceived as one providing enlightenment, away from the commercial motives of profit and expansion. This has been one of the deciding factors for the continuance of the traditional style Arabic book covers. Thus, dependence on the book’s content and author continue to be more important than the cover for their ability to attract readers.
With the emergence of modern-day publishing, several artistic tendencies are rooted in a deeper engagement with a book’s cover design have appeared, and several modern publishing houses have launched unique experiences in design, which have treated the cover as key, at the time when several publishing houses are still bound by traditional publishing and marketing.