I frequently travel. Over the years I have developed a relatively specific set of habits at each of the cities I visit most often. In Philadelphia, I tend to immediately drop my bags at the hotel and look for a restaurant serving food not easily found in Burlington, VT. In San Francisco, CA I always visit a particular bookstore and after purchasing the book, sip a cappuccino in North Beach while I begin to read. In Oxford, England I visit one bookstore there too, but generally treat myself to a libation at a lovely pub next door while I read the first chapter.
I was just recently in Oxford and purchased a book. Once I made my selection, I wondered what had made me pick that book over all the others on the tables and on the shelves. Was it the title, a pithy staff recommendation, or the book’s cover art, which was intriguing, that was most important to catching my eye? It turns out that the cover is critically important-- particularly for some genres. As reported in The New York Times, there is a huge market for romance novel cover models. In supermarkets, I see the covers of romance novels. Generally, the cover photograph or art depicts a ruggedly handsome man with a flat abdomen and bulging biceps, an open shirt, and some sort of searing gaze.
Evidently, that image helps drive sales in a huge industry. In 2013 more than 1 billion dollars was spent on romance novels. The genre and the books themselves are so popular that one e-book subscription service had to limit the number of romance novels they offered. The reason was that the e-book subscription service had to pay a fee each time the books were downloaded and the romance novels were downloaded so many times that the service was losing money on them.
Trying to get the attention of the reader can be challenging--hence the role of the “hot” male model on the cover. Men are usually on the cover of a romance novel as book covers with male models sell three times as much as with a woman alone. Some male models are in hot demand. A few have appeared on more than 500 covers. Alas, for the male models, little of the billion dollars spent on these books filter down to them.
Top models for these book covers may only make $20,000 a year-despite tireless publicity work. As for book I just recently purchased, no male model graced the cover (but then again, it was not a romance novel). The cover image consisted only of a sketch of the back of a woman’s head and a splash of color. The first chapter, however, was superbly written.