The Uncrowned King’s Uninspired Cover

Kenneth Whyte, editor in chief of Macleans magazine, has an interesting writeup of the cover design process for his latest book, The Uncrowned King: The Sensational Rise of William Randolph Hearst.

Passionate about the topic and frustrated with the solutions being provided to him by Random House, he goes from passive to obsessed, refusing to promote the book unless the cover gets to a point where he’s happy with it. Ultimately, he concedes and accepts the design provided by RH’s in-house staff.

Covers matter. At Maclean’s magazine, we sell between 7,000 and 21,000 copies a week on newsstands, and the most obvious variables week to week are the cover subject, the cover image, and the cover line, which means that when we nail a cover, we can sell three times as many copies as when we don’t.

I offered my editor a long but polite list of suggestions for alterations to her proposed covers. … It wasn’t long, however, before I was drafting designers of my acquaintance in Toronto, Montreal, and New York to produce alternatives to what I was now referring to as “the atrocities” coming out of the Random House art department.

My assistant said, “I bet they hate you at Random House, but I guess you’re used to that.”

The final design, put out by Random House Canada:

We can’t say we blame him for his frustration. The provided cover isn’t exactly inspiring or inspired. For someone used to dealing with the high-impact, competition-laden world of the magazine rack, we can see how it would appear muddled and clumsy. We count three images, 3 typefaces, five font-styles and outlined text, all of which varies slightly between browns and greys. The images used are ambiguous, providing a hint of more information but not really delivering on the promise, providing a lot of noise for little payoff.

We prefer the cover put out by Counterpoint publishing for the same book. There’s not much to it, but at least the tone looks important and on the level with similar titles about Carnegie, J.P. Morgan, or Rockefeller.

November 24th, 2008 by Pieratt

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