Controversy Over Anne Of Green Gables Cover Is Way Overblown, And That's A Great Sign For Indie Publishing

from the publishing-vanity dept

You may have caught wind of an online uproar today surrounding an edition of Anne Of Green Gables. If you’re not familiar, it’s a set of Canadian stories published in 1908 about a charming, precocious, freckled, red-headed orphan girl, and beloved by a lot of people. As with many things that people warmly remember from their childhoods, its legion of fans fiercely defends its integrity—so you can imagine how they reacted when a new edition appeared on Amazon with a cover depicting the titular character in a way that is quite faithful to modern audience expectations, but not so faithful to the text:

People are appalled, they’re outraged, they call it disgusting—a sign of our shallow times where art is warped by corporate pandering. But really, the whole thing is a bit of a misunderstanding, which seems to have been sparked by an NPR “round-up” style column with a bunch of brief news snippets. What a lot of people failed to realize before running with the story (or chose not to emphasize) is that Anne Of Green Gables is public domain, and this edition was published independently through Amazon’s CreateSpace. So, all of this broad outrage has really been sparked by one anonymous person using an independent publishing platform. The opinion that the cover choice is stupid seems perfectly legitimate (couldn’t it at least be a sexy redhead and not completely betray the text?) but the reaction is a tempest in a teapot. There are tons of editions of the book on Amazon, self-published and otherwise, as is almost always the case with popular public domain works. There’s really no conclusion to be drawn from this new edition, other than “some person out there didn’t actually read the book,” or possibly “gentlemen prefer blondes.”

But there is something worth drawing from the controversy that has emerged: there’s no difference between traditional publishing and self-publishing in the eyes of the average consumer. They simply don’t notice anymore. While this is best demonstrated by the popularity of some self-published books, sitting right alongside books from big authors and big publishing houses in the Amazon listings, it’s also demonstrated by a controversy like this, where the public considers one self-published public domain edition to be every bit as representative of “the world of publishing” as one of the major house’s “classic” lineups. Can you imagine, even ten years ago, people getting worked up about what would have still been called vanity publishing?

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Comments on “Controversy Over Anne Of Green Gables Cover Is Way Overblown, And That's A Great Sign For Indie Publishing”

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thebooksluts (user link) says:


I’m not QUITE sure that your conclusion is 100% accurate. Even though this edition was self-published, the original work has been traditionally-published for a very long time. The packaging may be DIY, but the work within, not so… and this wouldn’t have been an uproar if it weren’t a work we’ve been intimate with because so many people have read it throughout the years. Inaccurate “glamour” covers for self-published works that contain self-published content get, at best, eye rolls–definitely not what happened for Anne of Green Gables.

Leigh Beadon (profile) says:

Re: Hmm..

I see what you mean, but I still think it’s notable that people have been reacting by blaming “the publisher” or “Amazon” or “CreateSpace” or just nobody in particular… To the average consumer books are books, and they apparently take no notice of the fact that there’s no publishing house attached…

I’m not saying terrible self-published work doesn’t still get eye-rolls sometimes—some people seem to be going out of their way to make it obvious that something is truly an act of vanity publishing—but by and large, people seem to have stopped paying much attention to whether or not something is self published, and judge it by the content instead (or, more often than not, the cover—but hey, they were never gonna stop doing that!)

G Kearney says:

But wait there's more...

You missed an important part of the story. The reason they didn’t use a sexy redhead is because they can’t. Images of Anne of Green Gables are protected by something called the Anne Authority

Which is owned jointly by the Province of Prince Edward Island and the L. M. Montgomery estate

Leigh Beadon (profile) says:

Re: But wait there's more...

I’ve been trying to find out more — the wording on that site is ridiculous, but afaik it’s mainly just managing the copyrights on a few images for the book that are still protected (while the text is PD) — though it appears they may also be trying some trademark shennanigans… (still, they couldnt really stop anyone from putting a redhead on the cover… unless there is some really crazy trademark stuff going on)

Bob Jonkman (profile) says:

Re: Re: But wait there's more...

Here’s a good link that explains some of the confusion caused by the Anne Authority claiming Trademark or “Official Mark” rights over a work that should be in the public domain.

Irony Alert: It appears the article is behind a paywall, but there’s a good chunk of the beginning made available, and there seems to be a free 1-day subscription too.


G Thompson (profile) says:

Re: But wait there's more...

That is for the actual illustrations, artworks, photo’s and other ‘images’ (those things you can see) of the original Anne (not books).

If someone placed a photo of a redhead model on the book cover there is NOTHING that that Canadian Authority could do since the model is most definitely not Anne, and even if bore a 99.9% resemblance to Anne would still be unenforceable since Anne was a character. Oh and nothing of the rest of the Authorities so called powers are enforceable outside of Canada (and even inside it’s dubious they can).

As for using the blonde – who cares. Actually two things come to mind.
1. The publisher understands marketing perfectly well and that certain pictures are more beneficial to sales than others. ie: Blondes sell more than redheads [though I prefer redheads over blondes]
2. the bleaching of red hair works!

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re: But wait there's more...

Note that in domains where the copyright term is life+70 (most of Europe) L M Montgomery’s works only entered the public domain on Jan 1st this year. Therefore the estate would have had a claim in many territories until very recently.

That website is rather like a cartoon character that has just run off the edge of a cliff – but hasn’t yet looked down!

Fatma Tounsi says:

Re: Re: Because it works for marketing

Understanding the reasons behind the publisher’s choice shouldn’t make Anne’s lovers react less aggressively. On the contrary, the aggressive reaction, even if a little exaggerated, will prevent such things from happening again. Just because a work of literature is in the public domain, that doesn’t mean that anyone should be able to profit from it without putting any effort. I’m sure many book collectors would love to see beautiful and innovative new covers for the Anne series, but the existence of covers like this would make it less profitable for professional publishers to use time and effort on better covers.

JustSomeGuy says:

Embrace change (or it will crush you)

They should embrace this sort of stuff, just like the large number of Macbeth or Romeo/Juliet adaptations things like Men of respect, Throne of Blood, Gnomeo and that DiCaprio/Danes R&J one).

I absolutely adore taking old stuff like that and changing the setting. All I need now is an AmericanDad/Macbeth variant and an AvP/RomeoAndJuliet one and I could die happy 🙂

Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:

A Better Illustration

A useful trick in providing a cover illustration for a book is to use a contemporary illustration, which shows something of the attitude of the book. This is Winslow Homer’s _Fresh Air_ (1878), from the Brooklyn Museum in New York. Per Bridgemen vs. Corel, you are entitled to download this image and use it. It is not a picture _of_ Anne of Green Gables, but it shows a girl who came from very much the same kind of world.

Leigh Beadon (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Personally I never read the books, so I don’t feel the gravity of it myself, but it’s just like anything where someone meddle’s with something others consider a classic. It’s analogous to the rage over the new Ninja Turtles supposedly being from space.

Anne is one of those characters that a lot of readers identified with, or admired, because (I gather) she was plain, and somewhat insecure about her appearance, but also precocious and irrepressible. She’s also 11 years old at the beginning of the novels. I can see why people who have loved that character since childhood are put off by the mere suggestion that she’s actually a screen-ready blonde woman with come-hither-round-the-back-of-the-barn eyes.

heddie says:

Re: Re:

Because Anne has long been an icon for the non-blonde women of the world and her intelligence, charm and uniqueness is what ultimately finds her love and success. There are enough images of hot blondes with bedroom eyes out there, it was nice having a symbol for young girls that was inherently sexy but not overtly sexualized. Not to mention Anne is significantly younger than the girl pictured and from the Victorian era, not whatever “i just threw on my farmer boyfriends button down” era this is depicting. Shocking that men who haven’t read the books are the ones who don’t get it.

Jesse Townley (profile) says:

Self-published books in 2013

I review a lot of novels for Maximumrocknroll, long-running punk zine, and more and more of them are self-published through 3rd party companies as opposed to writers starting up their own publishing companies (analogous to bands starting their own record labels).

It’s become super-common, and nowadays a vanity press does NOT mean a crap book. Who knew?

Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:

The Public Domain Scammers and Amazon

I think what is going on is that people are all attempting to game Amazon’s recommendation engines. The recommendation engine can tell that a print-on-demand book is a copy of the Gutenberg e-text, and it can tell that the print-on-demand book has a color cover picture (*), but the recommendation engine cannot tell if the picture is relevant or not.

(*) Which nineteenth-and-early twentieth-century books generally did not, so you can’t just use the original.

Suppose you are teaching Anne of Green Gables in a school. In that case, you need to buy, say, thirty copies so that each student can have one, and, and so that you can say, “Okay, gang, open your books to page 76, where Anne says, blah, blah, blah, and what do you think she means by it?” Given the kind of students you have, you cannot expect them to read e-texts on-line and write out lists of questions and comments. The paperback book is well-suited to applying controlled pressure to make students learn when they would prefer not to. You basically want some kind of printed edition, but, beyond that, it doesn’t matter which.

Well, Amazon has decided that it doesn’t want to give this kind of business to, say, Viking Penguin, but prefers to steer the business to someone who will use their print-on-demand system, and that is reflected in the recommendation engine. Amazon’s thinking is that, on an order of thirty books, they can quote a reasonably competitive price. The result is that someone who doesn’t read any books at all sets up to produce editions of, say, a thousand public-domain books commonly used in the schools. This person, who is in effect, a kind of Moron in a Hurry, posts a book every five minutes, and literally doesn’t give himself time to think. He has to chose a picture for each book, and hence he chooses these purely idiotic pictures.

If you will recall, something similar happened with e-books a while back, and Amazon responded by pulling in all the Gutenberg/HathiTrust e-texts and making them free on the Kindle, to drive the scammers out.

The problem is that they can’t do that very well with a paper book. The printing, and the paper, and the shipping have to cost something, and there has to be a profit on it, and it is difficult to settle the matter thus directly, because it might amount to unfair competition. What Amazon might be able to do would be to give Gutenberg Project a grant to produce “paperback print-off-ready” editions, freely available to all, with suitable covers. They would then charge for “printing services,” with charges explicitly based on the amount of paper and ink required, the way a print-shop charges. However, they would also try to encourage schools to buy suitable printers, capable of generating paperbacks. Ideally, the teacher would cross the hall, run the machine, and return with an armful of brightly colored, well-constructed, paperbacks with Gutenberg Project printed on the spine.

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