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Doubleday Solicits Free Labor on Bestselling Author’s Book Cover

Posted by Rebecca Blake on March 21, 2017

Doubleday’s current book cover contest has hit the usual nerves in the design and illustration communities. The publisher issued a design contest for the book cover design of best-selling author Dan Brown’s newest creation, Origin. Doubleday states that the winning design will only be featured on a limited edition run, which will not be sold. This may explain the limited awards offered: publicity on the Doubleday website and social media platforms for the six finalists and winner, and 24 copies of the limited edition run for the winner. Despite the limited publication of the artwork, professional designers have dismissed the contest as promoting work on speculation.

One pithy response was from designer Jessica Helfand in her article on AIGA’s DesignObserver blog, “Design as Competition as Bake-Off.” Helfand describes how, throughout her career, she has been approached by professionals from all walks of life who have asked her advice on the cover design for their books. Helfand cheerfully gives her advice gratis; no tangible work exchanges hands, the conversations are relatively short and stimulating, and she considers her guidance an “act of stewardship.” She contrasts that exchange with Doubleday’s contest, made all the more stinging by the paltry award offered (which Helfand describes as “the presumed parasitic attachment to Brown’s epic social media following”) and net worth of author Dan Brown (estimated at $140 million – surely the author could cough up some sort of prize money).

A follow-up article on Fast Company by Meg Miller reports that in an email to Helfand, Doubleday clarified that were the limited edition to be sold, the publisher agrees that the designer should be paid. That response does little to assuage concerns with the crowdsourced contest model. For one thing, it normalizes the concept of work on speculation for young designers and illustrators. (Miller points out that the contest news release, published exclusively on Entertainment Weekly, seems to be targeted to students and non-professionals.) Secondly, the terms of the contest include a depressingly familiar rights grab: Doubleday claims perpetual and irrevocable worldwide rights to the copyrights and moral rights for every single entry.

The Graphic Artists Guild is unequivocally opposed to contests that require the execution of newly-created speculative work, and that require entrants to transfer all rights to their work. Refer to our “Suggested Guidelines for Art Competitions and Contests” for more information on how to gauge the advisability of entering a contest.

Below: the template supplied by the publisher begs your free work.

Doubleday template for Dan Brown book jacket contest

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