Album Art Affecting Sales

laurenm's picture

Hi guys

Can someone find me some statistics that prove that good vs bad album artwork affect sales?

Does anyone know such statistics to persuade an independent artist that has no appreciation for design?

Thanks a bunch

hrant's picture

Kevin Larson has done research in this vein.

hhp

JamesM's picture

If you can find the websites of some designers who create good album art, perhaps they'll have some testimonials from satisfied clients that you could use as evidence.

dezcom's picture

This was surely the case in the vinyl days when cover art was 12" square. Even CDs in an old fashioned record store were often point-of-purchase gotta-haves. I don't know how the online download method has affected this. Even though you can see images online, it does not have the same angst as being in a store and wondering if the album will be there the next time.

Nick Shinn's picture

I may be old school, and a graphic designer, but I still buy CDs, and the packaging is part of that.
I’m a sucker for three-panel cardboard covers (preferably with foil stamping or some such thing) with booklets.
And if the disc itself has some special design, so much the better.
Often I will buy a CD at Starbucks.
As an independent, you might consider non-internet distribution of CDs at retail stores where you can talk to the proprietor in the flesh, and of course at gigs along with related branded collateral merch such as posters and Tshirts.
It’s one way to build cachet.
Is this cool or what?
Did you see the poster inside?


If you don't get it immediately, that's part of the attraction.

hrant's picture

> Often I will buy a CD at Starbucks.

One more strike and you're out. ;-)

hhp

Frode Bo Helland's picture

Depends on the customers. I know a book store that hired a batch of designers where the new books that were actually designed by professionals didn't sell as good as the old stuff (80-s recycled/translated covers).

hrant's picture

Probably because too many designers spend
too much time trying to impress each other.

Related:
http://typophile.com/node/88361

hhp

dezcom's picture

No, Hrant. The simple truth is that the abilities of graphic designers follows the same bell shaped curve as with every other profession. Some are quite good and some are quite bad with the usual distribution between. The difference today is that designers are not hired to do work based on their ability in low profit margin products. They are hired on price. It would be the same in type design if fonts were chosen based on price instead of quality. When this happens, the upper end of the curve gets cut off and you have skewed the curve.

hrant's picture

Nah, the sad truth is most graphic designers are
more interested in their mutual navels than users.
I've seen them do it.

hhp

dezcom's picture

That is your own prejudice talking, Hrant.

The percentage of graphic designers who are interested in their own navels is the same as it is for every other profession. I have seen it.

hrant's picture

Nah, every profession is a little bit different. Sometimes a lot different.
And it actually makes sense that a profession concerned with the visual
would be more superficial. Concerning typeface design, you might be
right when it comes to those who only make display faces, but anybody
who makes a real text font is necessarily less navel-centric.

hhp

JamesM's picture

> graphic designers who are interested in their own navels

Most designers I've known aren't like that, but when it happens it's sometimes because they've gone into the wrong profession. Graphic designers are primarily concerned about communicating on behalf of a client, which is quite different from the fine arts where you're mainly concerned with self-expression.

I remember one of my college professors saying that professors sometimes need to talk a student into switching from graphic design to the fine arts (or vice versa) because the student has picked a major that doesn't really suit their personality.

hrant's picture

> it's sometimes because they've gone into the wrong profession.

Agreed - and indeed, Art. Except it's a really
tough profession so they go into Design instead.

hhp

dezcom's picture

"Nah, every profession is a little bit different. "

I don't buy that at all. What is your basis for this beyond just your opinion?

hrant's picture

Are you seriously saying that all professions
have the same proportion of navel-gazers?

hhp

dezcom's picture

Yes I am. And the same percentage of everything else not specifically required to perform the tasks of the profession.
Are you seriously saying that graphic designers have a majority percentage of navel-gazers based solely on your own opinion or do you have some data from unbiased sources to prove it?
The traits of human nature are distributed among humans in similar ratios. You of course have to cancel out skills or mindsets that the profession in question requires. Race car drivers must be more daring or fearless than librarians in order to do what they do. I am talking specifically about traits which have no bearing on their ability to perform the task of the trade. There is no advantage to a designer to be a navel-gazer which is greater than the norm for society.

I am truly sorry for the horrible personal experience you must have suffered at the hands of a few graphic designers in order to instill you with this highly pronounced prejudice that you so often post about. What was your specific devastating experience?

hrant's picture

Nah, I never let them get under my skin.
My observations here are essentially clinical.

hhp

dezcom's picture

What were your observations?

hrant's picture

That most of them worry too much about impressing each other.
(Why am I having to repeat myself?)

hhp

dezcom's picture

Don't you have at least one documentable incident to cite? You keep replying with unsubstantiated generalizations. Surely there must be some factual detail you can mention?

hrant's picture

Ah, actually I used an old Chinese mind trick: it's called Paying Attention.

hhp

dezcom's picture

Oh, I see, you have no factual information.

Nick Shinn's picture

…where the new books that were actually designed by professionals didn't sell as good as the old stuff…

Wasn't the old stuff designed by professionals?

dezcom's picture

And was the new stuff designed by Desktop publishers masquerading as professionals?

Frode Bo Helland's picture

Nick, Dez: The old stuff were just remakes of original cover art (which in itself is pretty bad for this segment) translated to Norwegian. The new stuff is much better, deploying illustrators instead of clip-art, photographers instead of stock photography and concious type decisions instead of just using whatever was listed first in the font-list with its default settings.

dezcom's picture

Frode,

Perhaps it was a matter of familiarity. People recognized the old art as authentic and the new art looked like some kind of fake to them? Perhaps they were only looking for "The Real McCoy"?

[added later]
I recall when vinyl records gave way to CDs and my turn-table became too expensive to fix. I started looking for digital versions of the analog recordings thatI cherished for years. As an example, there was a fantastic recording of La Boheme with Monserrat Caballe and Pavarotti in the lead roles. [They never performed it but made the recording.] I looked for the recording in stacks at record stores by trying to find the familiar cover art that I knew well. I never found it. Years later, I found out that they had changed the cover art. I might have seen the CD and never even realized it because of the cover change. The old cover was not very good but it was very familiar to me.

Nick Shinn's picture

Frode: The new stuff is much better…

Apparently not.
The “professionals” were guilty of over-design, i.e. inappropriate design, bad design.
I wouldn't say that they were navel-gazing, but just doing what they thought was right, i.e. producing slick and sophisticated work.
However, it missed the mark.

When I was designing covers for Harlequin romances, my creative director made one point very clear early on: the customers were expecting a good relaxing read, not to be confronted with the challenge of “literature”. That message should be made clear by the cover.

Also consider price: if a design looks too good for the price (or the subject matter), it will suggest that there is something wrong with the content, and the publisher is trying to deceive shoppers.

hrant's picture

> just doing what they thought was right

?
Assuming they weren't mentally retarded the only explanation for
this is that they weren't paying attention to what users might prefer.
And if a so-called "designer" isn't paying attention to that, guess
what he's probably paying attention to instead...

hhp

Frode Bo Helland's picture

Nick/Hrant: My point exactly. Designing for designers!

(Although, in this particular case I think anything that raises the bar for acceptable visuals is for the good -- not necessarily good design for the customer, but good in the long run because this particular customer base needs to appreciate craft and beauty much more than what is the case today ... but that's another other story.)

So yes: beautiful, but not good design. Sorry about the bad phrasing.

Nick Shinn's picture

Hrant: …the only explanation for this is that they weren't paying attention to what users might prefer.

In a way, yes, but through inexperience rather than willful ignorance or self-indulgence.
As Chris noted, this is a general problem with professionalism, with the emphasis on “general”.
One is taught general principles and standard procedures, with the focus on certain major and prestigious areas of design. But in the workaday world these standards have to be fine-tuned to particular markets and user groups, and if these are niches such as book jacket design, no matter how good a designer you are, you will be out of your depth at first.

The publisher shares some responsibility for the cock-up, Frode, because the design process is a synergistic relationship involving client and supplier.

When I was designing covers for a small indie publisher, he would always mock up a dummy book with the cover design, place it on a typical store bookshelf, and view it in a walk-by. For this client, I would usually prepare two or three options.

I never attended the executive meetings at Harlequin in which covers were vetted, but my CD told me that the panel would look at each cover for a split second before giving it the yay or nay -- brutal, no time for creatives' rationalizations. For that client, I would prepare sometimes dozens of options.

JamesM's picture

> the panel would look at each cover for a
> split second before giving it the yay or nay

Brutal indeed, though I can see the logic of it. They wanted covers that would attract the immediate attention of someone walking by.

aluminum's picture

What's an "album"?

dezcom's picture

"What's an "album"?

For those young enough to be in Aluminum's generation:
An album is the original name for a collection of 78 rpm records by a given artist released at the same time. At first, This was an album book with each page turn yielding a different disk. A few years later when 33 1/3 became a normal speed, an album containing 4 disks would now fit on one 33 1/3 disk. Even though the larger disk was a single piece of vinyl, it kept the name "Album". A typical album had about 16 songs. There were also "Double albums" like the Beatles "White Album" which contained 2 disks. After the CD came out and single release songs were not sold anymore, the name album gave way to the name "CD". Album cover became CD cover. Now that it is all digital online sales they will most likely fade into a new name.

Frode Bo Helland's picture

An album is the image and name a group of songs are listed next to in iTunes :)

Nick Shinn's picture

Darrell, if you're wondering what a “book” is, this might help.

Té Rowan's picture

In this thread's context and as I learned it, an album is the logical result of the publisher wanting to sell more music as a unit than fits on one disc (45, LP, CD…). Yatta! I knew I could say it without resorting to sarcasm! And no, I am absolutely not going to diss EMI for making “The Sounds of Wales” a two-disc album.

charles ellertson's picture

Extreme cases of mirror thinking going on here...

Martin Silvertant's picture

"After the CD came out and single release songs were not sold anymore"
What do you mean they're not sold anymore? It's still big business in both the "underground" extreme metal scene and the electro/house/dance scene. I bet also others though I'm not so familiar.

"Album cover became CD cover"
Maybe for a while back then. I still (or again as I've missed the transition from the old to the new format) see the former being used more than the latter, particularly because "CD cover" can refer to the disc face as well.

Nick Shinn's picture

The “concept album” is still with us, maybe even enjoying a resurgence.
Last year’s Grammy winner, Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs is a concept album.

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