After I finished my masters degree in San Diego, a good friend of mine gifted me a book he thought I'd enjoy. Probably unbeknownst to this friend, my parents and family had long since given up on trying to get me to read books for pleasure. While I'd pour through pages on the internet, and have always loved cinema, I stopped reading (outside of school) when I was about 16.
I was 25, the book was classic science fiction, and it literally changed my life. I read it every day while walking to and from my office on campus. Strolling slowly to school I would get about an hour of reading in per day, and it still took over a month to finish! Not reading fiction for a decade makes your mind out of shape. Now I love books, and have been trying to consume classics that I'd been recommended so many years ago.
This metamorphosis has made me passionate about books again, concerned for libraries, and an active reader. One thing I noticed right away, especially when buying used paperback science fiction, is how bizarre book cover art can be. They range from basic solid hues, to gaudy airbrushed scenes of romance. This was a culture, an entire art scene, that I knew nothing about!
I do know a bit about movie posters, particularly from my youth working in a movie theater. Movie poster styles rely a lot on templates; basic layouts if you will. These are often very similar within the same genre (e.g the heroes in a V formation).
Color choice in movie posters is also fascinating (e.g. orange/blue contrast use in serious/action movies). There was an AWESOME blog post a few months ago by Vijay Pandurangan on the distribution of movie poster colors over time. Seriously, if you like my blog go read that post here! He found that blue has become much more prevalent in the last ~20 years. Neato!
I started to wonder: are there trends to be found among book covers?
Popular colors? Common layouts? Once again late night musings necessitate data!
Gathering the Data
So I gathered the book covers for Top 10 Best Selling books from USA Today. I wrote a script to grab the Top-10 covers every week (actually 4 weeks per month, 48 weeks a year) from 2000 to 2012. USA Today does a great job of aggregating book sales information from tons of sources, and their Top-10 list is easier to use than most other similar digests if you want a broad census for what people are reading.
How does one visualize ~6000 book covers (about 1300 individual books)? ALL AT ONCE!
Here is what 12 years of Top-10 book covers looks like. It is organized in 1-year "bricks", with 2000-2011 top to bottom. In each brick are 48 columns (weeks), Jan 1 on the left, New Years on the right. Rank 1...10 are top to bottom within each brick.