Monday, May 10, 2010

How do you translate a picture?

On your left you have the UK cover of Jonathan Safran Foer's Everything is Illuminated and on the right the French cover. They look like two entirely different books to me.

The Guardian asks why book covers are reimagined in each country where a book is sold whereas album covers are the same the world over. I'm not convinced by their argument that
literary fiction is an easier sell in mainland Europe than in the UK or the US, so publishers there can be less overt in their attempts to grab the attention of customers
considering that the European (French) cover is also attention grabbing. Or maybe public breast fondling isn't unusual in France. Who can say?

The article is here. I'd be interested to know what you think.


Old Kitty said...

How interesting!!

I am currently reading Wolf Hall and am now dying to find out what the American take on her book cover is!

The article didn't really come to any sort of concrete answer as to why book covers are re-imaginged as they are in - not just continents - different COUNTRIES.

So maybe it is down to "cultural differences and tastes" - I mean when in France, esp rural France no-one thinks twice about unisex toilets - so I can see why grabbing a woman's breasts on a book cover has a different impact there than here. I think.

I think it'll be great if book cover artists were actually interviewed. I'm just glad to see art on a book cover alive and kicking - or at least causing much rubbing of foreheads and puzzled looks!

Take care

Whirlochre said...

It's only just occurred to me how absurd this is.

I can think of a few album covers that have been changed to suit different markets, but on the whole, you're right — usually, the same product goes out with different text.

Why this matters is that the potential for ebooks to be packaged in all sorts of clutter not to do with the contents is very great.

JaneyV said...

The only reason to change a book cover, that I can think of, is if there is some sort of cultural reason for doing so. In these cases the title is often changed as well.

The example given is a strange one because, although I think the painting on the French cover is very beautiful (and I would consider buying the painting) it does not induce me to open the book. I find the British cover even more off-putting as it puts me in mind of a greetings card.

I guess it's all down to marketing and what differing countries/cultures find attractive within each genre.

Ann said...

I don't understand this at all. I can see a change for cultural differences so as not to offend. But beyond that I can't think why.

Unknown said...

different areas have different cultures and therefore different things that appeal to them. I don't think its any more complicated than that.

fairyhedgehog said...

Kitty, it would be nice to think that authors got a say in their book covers. I gather they don't.

Whirl, I do find it odd.

Jane, I like the look of the French cover too, although I'd wonder if it was quite the book for me.

Ann, if the French cover had come first, you could argue that it wasn't suitable for UK sensibilities but I don't think it did!

Taryn, I'm still mystified. I popped over to your blog by the way and I'm following it now.

Unknown said...

why thank you. I am flattered.

fairyhedgehog said...


Kate said...

My understanding of this phenomenon is more simple. If a book is actually published in different countries (as opposed to simply available in them), it is probably published by different companies: i.e. author sold first North American rights to Scholastic, and UK rights to Bloomsbury. Now it's obvious why the books would look different. Authors provide the text, but publishers provide the book design. They have no incentive to share, and every reason to customize it for their catalog and their market.

L. T. Host said...

Maybe there are just different styles for book covers in general between cultures?

The Harry Potter books leap to mind; I had the opportunity to see the US, UK, and Canada covers shortly after each other, and I remember thinking that I still liked the US one better. I'd have to go look again and see if I still did, but maybe styles are just different in different cultures and publishers try to cash in on that.

It does seem silly, whatever the reason. Waste of resources.

jjdebenedictis said...

I think American audiences are shyer about sexuality than the French, so I can see an American cover being tamer out of fear that American buyers would think twice about carrying around a book with a racy cover.

I can't imagine many people in France feeling that sort of bashfulness. Nudity just isn't as big a deal in many parts of Europe as it is in North America.

batgirl said...

I've heard that N. American YA readers prefer to have people - figures or faces - on their covers. Zoe Marriott's Swan Kingdom had a garland of flowers with standing stones in the background for the UK, and the US release had a cloaked girl standing in front of the stones.

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