What’s Up With Raging Swan Press’s Covers?

20 Things Comp_front_220I recently received a request to explain Raging Swan Press’s take on book covers. As a anyone with a passing knowledge of Raging Swan Press will know our covers are somewhat different to the norm. Why?



Well, that’s a relatively simple question, and one I can start to answer with a question:

What’s the point of a book cover?

To my mind, a book cover has two main purposes:

  1. To clearly identify the book.
  2. To get customers to buy it.

But let’s hold on a second. A close look at a cover’s purpose reveals those purposes actually benefit the publisher and not the customer. So let’s ask a slightly different question:

What’s the point of a book cover, for a customer?

Realistically, I’ve struggled to think of even one. Sure, the book might look nice, but given most physical books are stored on bookshelves “spine out” most of the time you can’t see the cover. Most electronic books are stored on the customer’s computer and I know very few people who sit in front of their computer and browse the cover illustrations of their books during their spare time.

Now—of course—covers are not free. Given a book cover’s primary purpose is to entice customers to buy it; it follows if you are going to do cover design “properly” you can’t use stock art. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing properly. And that costs money.

Let’s put the ballpark cost of a decent cover at $100. That’s a pretty arbitrary—and not inconsequential—cost, but I suspect it’s pretty accurate given Raging Swan Press pays $50 for a black line art half-page illustration. I’ve previously blogged about the breakeven point (and why it’s one of the most important numbers a publisher should know) and, of course, the cost of a cover works against a book’s breakeven point.

As a publisher, I have three options:

  1. Swallow the cost and make less money.
  2. Pass the cost onto the customer.
  3. Pray I sell an extra 100—or so—copies of every small PDF. (Given the harsh reality of 3PP this isn’t a view based in reality).

If I have to pick, I’ll pick number #2 (as I like to eat and pay my bills). So do you—as a customer—want to pay extra for something—essentially packaging—you’ll rarely “use”?

That might seem quite mercenary, but look at it this way: Raging Swan Press has released around 350 electronic books or physical books to date. At a per-cover cost of $100 a pop, I would have had to spend $35,000 (or take an extra $35,000 in sales). That’s a fairly sizeable amount of cash to stump up for something that has no practical use for the customer.

Raging Swan’s Mission

Everything we do at Raging Swan Press is focused on making a GM’s game better (and easier to prepare and run). How does a nice cover manage that?

The answer is that it doesn’t and so we decided from day #1 to get away from fancy, expensive and time-consuming cover designs and instead focus on making quality GM Resources.

In this, I believe we have been successful. And part of the reason we have succeeded is that we’ve focused on what matters and ignored everything else. Beyond the $ cost of a book’s cover there’s the time cost in finding an artist, writing art direction, drawing up a contract, reviewing drafts, paying the artist and designing the cover. None of the that really helps a GM’s campaign. So why bother?

What Do You Think?

Are we mad? Are we visionaries? Let us know in the comments below.

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Creighton is the publisher at Raging Swan Press and the designer of the award winning adventure Madness at Gardmore Abbey. He has designed many critically acclaimed modules such as Retribution and Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands and worked with Wizards of the Coast, Paizo, Expeditious Retreat Press, Rite Publishing and Kobold Press.

13 thoughts on “What’s Up With Raging Swan Press’s Covers?”

  1. I like your ‘house style’. I’d rather you put the money into content than pay extra for covers, which as you say, will not be seen.

  2. If anything, the black covers, the font, the logo, all works really well to identify the book, wether physical or digital, as one of yours. I think it’s as much a brand look as the Wizards ‘action scene’ style covers.

  3. Making it Black on White would save ink costs when printing – or is it just me that likes to have a physical copy to write on / highlight?

  4. Thanks for answering.

    Makes a lot of sense to me. The way I see it, covers are basically a form of advertising. But that might not be doing much when it’s in a digital environment. More effective in my opinion is all the free content you provide through this blog: I wouldn’t know about your products otherwise. It’s also likely more representative of what’s inside than cover art would be.

  5. I love the Raging Swan trade dress. It just looks simple and classy, like a “respectable” book. Simplicity is a good thing.

  6. I personally would like to see a different style for each series in order to make the thumbnails easier to spot when looking at a page full of them.

    1. Brian, thanks for this comment. Can you explain it a bit more for my old brain? At the moment, I have plain black covers for Pathfinder, plain red covers for 5e and plain yellow for System Neutral Edition books. Do you mean, you’d like different designs–say–for Village Backdrops, Places of Power etc.?

      1. Something simple to distinguish the Village Backdrops, GM Miscellany, Places of Power, and any other ongoing series you have at a glance in thumbnails, where the titles are too small to read. The Black, Red and Yellow work nicely to indicate the System involved, but some kind of logo or pattern for the series would make it easier for me to find a particular set, rather than just looking at a page full of black covers that are indistinguishable at that resolution.

  7. You have also previously noted that some covers also can act as spoilers (I’m thinking of modules/adventures here) which is a great point as well. I, frankly, love your reasoning and as others have said, your consistent covers work very well for product identification (fancy marketing term I barely understand ;).

    Thanks for sharing the reasoning. Like your products, it’s intentional and well-thought-out.

  8. I appreciate your single color/edition covers but I do wish you hadn’t gone away from the glossy black Pathfinder covers. 🙂
    I do understand why and to be fair I don’t run Pathfinder so the red and yellow covers suit me just fine.

  9. I like the plain covers, of whatever colour. For me, I like the fact that the cover doesn’t display the potential content of the book itself. A quick glance at the cover of many adventures can easily reveal what the big end battle is going to be, or at least some of the major protagonists. So please keep these “unrevealing” covers going!

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