Starving Artists

The other day I was perusing the new release shelf of the science fiction section of Barnes & Noble, sipping my Jamba Juice, and admiring the quality and variety of cover art on the books. I started to wonder how many artists make their living making book covers like that. Yesterday, I was thinking about Sony's sexy new eBook reader coming soon, and iRex's new reader they just released and I started thinking about how inevitable it is that as more and more of life becomes digitized more people are going to follow me down this currently less traveled road of reading mostly digital books. Digital books can still have cover art, and maybe it's because I mostly read bootlegs, but most don't seem to have any. When they do it's actually kind of cumbersome. If the mass of popular literature makes the digital migration, what happens to those artists? Will they have to learn HTML and start designing the books' web pages instead? That's probably a more lucrative profession, but it also leads to the obsolescence of an art. Cover art could become a novelty like hand bound books or books with gilded pages.

We can't expect things to stay they way they are, though, just because of a few "lost jobs." Anyone who understands the industrial revolution knows that more jobs are created by these kinds of advances than are "lost" as long as people are willing to adapt, but it still makes me sad to think a bookstore might just be a thumbnail gallery instead of a dark hardwood shelf full of reproduced paitings and ink-stained cellulose. What I'd kind of like to see is designer books. Of course, they'd be more expensive, but that'd be because more was put into them. To appeal to collectors or just everyday customers, physical books would have to find new "features". Maybe covers could be hand-painted, like the fore-edge paintings Martin Frost makes.Each book might have a custom binding, or the cover art would be hand painted. The cover art could be made in limited and numbered print runs like some artists already do. My "designer book" ideas are actually sounding pretty weak to me right now, but I'm not a designer. I know the creativity is out there, in the public and the industry, to make something really cool out of this idea.