I think it’s safe to say that many readers initially choose books based on their covers. They may lean towards matte-finish literary fiction, glossy romance, dark and sensual paranormal, or YA fiction using everything from out-of-focus photos of young women to daggers and shadows. Oftentimes I become attached to the covers of my favorite books, and usually the cover I fall in love with is the only one I can ever imagine for that story. But then one day there’s a reprint, an update due to popularity, or, heaven forbid, a movie or TV counterpart coming out that alters the cover completely. This always catches me by surprise. Surely I can’t be the only one attached to first-issue book covers. So why do they change?
The first book of my favorite YA triology, Delirium by Lauren Oliver, has gone through three covers (not including foreign prints) since its release in 2011. The first cover was relatively simple: a sky-blue base color with the bold title and author name functioning as a cutout over a female’s face. It’s clean, but the cutout effect adds some mystery over what the full picture is. Its second cover was changed to portray half of a young woman’s face with a background of muted greens, blues, and added foliage. Because this theme stayed with the next two books, I’m inclined to think this switch signaled the shift from a test-the-waters novel into a more cohesive series with a look similar to others in the YA fiction genre. The third cover of Delirium was a special edition release of the novel, and brought back the intense blue color, and a sliced, rocky heart. In all honesty, I love each of the three different versions and would buy multiple editions if my wallet allowed, but my desire to collect the various forms doesn’t keep me from wondering why publishers change the cover on a relatively new and popular book like this at all.
These three covers all bind the same book, yet seem to be reaching for different readers who are after a specific genre-influenced feel. It’s possible that the cover change is also a matter of marketing. Reprinting with a new cover may extend a book’s longevity and draw in readers who passed it over before. On the other hand, it could just be a matter of gauging consumer interest that allowed the publisher to reinvent the book and set it on another fruitful path. There’s also the slight chance that publishers want to capitalize on crazed fans like myself, who would love to buy all possible variations of their favorite books.
For an even more obvious case of changing covers, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series is perhaps the best. Any perusal of the books offered through Barnes and Noble will illustrate just how many covers have been placed on this series over the years. It’s gone through numerous changes, including the original covers, special edition covers, and covers with snapshots from the movies. All of these are intended to capture different desires from their fans. Those who identified with the movie may be more inclined to buy the series with the movie covers, whereas longtime fans may want copies with the original covers.
These books are quite successful, and perhaps that’s partly due to the rearranging of covers to suit different interests. I may be partial to the cover I first see, but, there’s something to be said about special edition covers, and movie or TV tie-ins. Covers are changed to align their books with a new graphics trend, to capture a different audience it missed with the first version, or to make the book recognizable to those who want the book-version of their favorite movie. Whatever reasons influence the changing of covers, it’s obvious that readers definitely have versions of their favorite books to choose from.