I 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:
- To clearly identify the book.
- 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:
- Swallow the cost and make less money.
- Pass the cost onto the customer.
- 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.