As I’ve argued elsewhere, Penguin and other major publishing houses could be tackling the challenges of the e-book and self-publishing revolutions by asserting their own distinct creative track record—not least in classic cover designs. Never one to miss a trick, Penguin is clearly doing just that, and now, for the 50th anniversary of the publication of the Cold War classic “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold” by John le Carré, is reissuing the book in a hardback facsimile of its original 1963 Victor Gollancz first edition. Now there’s something that you can’t fit on a Kindle.
Except … Penguin only got it half right, in my opinion. Yes, it’s a distinct creative statement to produce such an edition, especially in the digital era, and almost an act of homage. But if so, should it really have a self-congratulatory publisher’s slogan blazoned across the bottom? Especially since that wording replaces a quote from J. B. Priestley on the original first edition cover? (Here courtesy of Wikipedia.)
The cover blurb, incidentally, comes from the original message from the publisher, U.S. veteran of the “literary wars” John J. Geoghegan, who originally acquired the rights to the book for his New York publishing house Coward-McCann in 1963, and was, according to his New York Times obituary, a strident critic of the commercialization of publishing in his lifetime. “‘What’s coming into publishing are finance and administration guys telling editors what kind of products and what kind of marketing will be done,” he complained. Given that, I have to wonder if he really meant to call it “a terrible novel of great actuality.” That sentence is open to more than one reading. All the same, Geoghegan was the one who put the book into print—and launched le Carré’s career.
So why not truly stick to the original, Penguin, if you want to show genuine reverence? You could easily run the strap-on marketing strapline on a separate book band or even a sticker. But it’s a trend, and it’ll be good to see what other classic cover art surfaces.