Seventy years after a writer dies, their work falls into the public domain. That may sound sad, but from here it can be freely distributed to the generations to come. That’s why you can download thousands of these works to read on your Kindle, free, right now. But there’s often something to be desired. While the words have been preserved, these ebooks are just spartan files of text, either unadorned with cover art, or slapped with something stock, dated, or generally hideous.
Recovering the Classics is a joint project by the Creative Action Network, DailyLit, and Harvard Bookstore that hopes to attract designers and illustrators–namely, people like you–to crowdsource public domain covers for what they’ve deemed the 50 greatest literary works in public domain history. (And once they reach 50, they’d like to do the next 50, and maybe even the next 50.) Technically, these covers will then enter the public domain for you to use as you see fit. But for ease of distribution, the Harvard Bookstore will print you any public domain book you’d like with any cover you’d like for $15, with profits split between the organizations and cover’s creator. eBooks will be available for $3.
“These books in particular deserve more love!” pleas Max Slavkin from the Creative Action Network. “By repackaging them for new technologies and new generations, we hope more people will fall in love with these books like we have.”
Indeed, fresh cover art can do a lot to reinvigorate the identity of an old book. Just flipping through some of their sample covers, I’m tempted to revisit an old classic like The Time Machine or finally actually read Don Quixote. Plus, there’s another interesting benefit: With enough participation, many of these books could potentially have several covers. Imagine using such covers to promote the same book in a different way to various demographics through a (totally free) service like Project Gutenberg, enticing children and adults alike to crack open a classic Sherlock Holmes mystery. Generally, that’s the sort of costly marketing left to publishers and bookstores. In the age of the Internet and ebooks, though, maybe we could do it for free.