Life of a Book Hoarder

Cover Art Matters…At Least To Me

This post might come off as (incredibly) whiny to some of you, but if you can’t tell from my weekly Judging posts, I appreciate the cover art and overall design of my books. That’s not to say every book in my library must be pretty. In fact, I love used books and oftentimes when casually browsing, I’m not looking for specifics when it comes to cover art. However, there are several books that I collect multiple copies of, solely for their art and design and other times I see a pretty series or cover design and I want that one!

Recently, I saw the below edition of The Hobbit on someone’s Instagram (naturally I forget whose) and I wanted it.

I had the ISBN, so I went on Amazon and was happy to find it used from a third-party seller for a few bucks. I ordered it and alas, received a completely different cover variant, though the ISBN was the same. I’ve had it up to here (-jumps up in the air in an attempt to hold my hand waaaay higher than my head-) with trying to return stuff to Amazon (that’s a rant for another day) so I just left poor feedback for the seller saying that while the book was in the condition described, it wasn’t the edition I believed I was purchasing. Is that fair? I don’t know, but it seemed like the only place I could complain without requesting a refund because I didn’t want to bother with that.

The sellers kindly reached out to me the next day to explain that they don’t list the pictures, Amazon does. They did offer a refund and I declined and took down my negative feedback. But this is the problem – when buying a book online, the only way I can know what it looks like is by the pictures listed. If there are multiple cover variants and editions linked to the same ISBN that is another problem, but I also think that sellers have some responsibility to accurately display their products! I don’t know how many pages or what the measurements are of a book I’ve never seen physically before, so I have to trust that what the site is telling me is correct. The best way to do that is by the pictures they display. If those are wrong, how else can I verify that I’m getting the edition I want? It’s like, if you bought a blue sweater because that’s what the picture showed and you were sent green instead and the company said, “well all colors of this sweater have the same item number!”

Like an ass, I decided to try again, with a different seller. The book on the left is what I received from Amazon. The book on the right is from a seller on Abe Books! They both have the same ISBN! They’re not even the same size! Before I shelled out another handful of dollars on this edition from Abe Books, I did contact the seller and asked them to check the book and I described the cover art I was looking for. I received the following response:

“Thank you for your email! In order to help you make the best buying decision possible, we provide all the information you need right on the listing page of the book, on whatever market you prefer to shop. Usually, you can just click the title or the picture of the book to get to the details you need. Unfortunately, we do not have the ability to check condition or format specifics on every book. Please keep in mind that we list all items by ISBN when possible. If you are looking for a specific cover or edition, we would recommend locating the exact ISBN for that item.”

I didn’t bother to contact them further and just bought the book, pretty much knowing it would be wrong – and it was! Their response was less than helpful, as I already had the exact ISBN. I don’t know jack about how big this seller is or where their stock is in relation to the people who answer their emails, but it’s frustrating all the same. Amazon and other large booksellers can be frustrating and now I’m finding that dealing with different sellers and trying to support what I assume are smaller businesses, is making me just as angry as dealing with the big guys! Needless to say, I’ve given up on trying for that Hobbit unless I happen upon it at a used bookstore, which I feel is unlikely. (Side note: I don’t even see how to leave feedback for the seller and probably won’t bother using Abe Books again.)

In the midst of all this, I placed an Amazon order because my friends and family are awesome and gave me money to buy books. One of these books was Shiverton Hall – a book that sounds good and also looked lovely (HAHAHA stupid Milliebot).

Joke’s on me because guess what came in the mail?

Not only is this cover vastly different from what I ordered, it’s HIDEOUS! Look, if I’d never seen the other cover and came across this book in the store, I’d  buy it because it sounds interesting, but I’d grimace at the cover. But instead, I was shown a picture of a cover that I found to be very aesthetically pleasing and instead received…this….

Having the same situation happen to me over the course of like, two weeks, is just too much for my bratty brain to handle. What is going on!?

I realized afterward that this particular book was from a third party seller, but that seller was Book Depository! I’ve shopped on BD many times to purchase specific UK editions of books and have never received a cover other than what I ordered. The frustrating part is that when I put the ISBN for this book (which of course, is the same in the physical copy I received) on Book Depository, it brings me to the same cover art that’s listed on Amazon! HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO KNOW WHAT ISBN THE COVER ART I WANT BELONGS TO.

Here’s where I get extra crazy:

Amazon and Book Depository details:
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens (January 22, 2013)
ISBN-13: 978-1408827789
Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches

My book:
Paperback: 248 printed pages
Publisher: Bloomsbury
ISBN-13: 978-1408827789
Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.5 x 7.75 inches

The difference is small, between page count and dimensions, but it’s there. As a buyer, were I to purchase from either site, I have no way of proving that what they’ll send will match their cover art. I can’t be expected to do a vigorous internet search on an ISBN every time I want a specific edition. Searching Google brings up the blue cover on Bloomsbury’s own site.

Even searching Shiverton Hall on Book Depository doesn’t show me the cover art they sell. I couldn’t buy this edition from their site if I tried. SO WHERE DID IT COME FROM!?


Ugh. I don’t want to rant about this anymore. What I want to know is, has this happened to any of you? Would you be as mad as I am if this happened? Please tell me I’m not alone! Alternately, tell me I’m being a whiny brat! Also alternately, tell me if you know the secret to ensuring you get the cover art you want and/or why ISBNs have different edition details linked to them.

13 thoughts on “Cover Art Matters…At Least To Me”

  1. Wow. This is really interesting. I never really thought about covers and ISBNs but it would seem that when a new ISBN is issued for a new edition that only the text is considered? I suppose that makes sense–it would be confusing to have a new ISBN for every marketing redesign. And yet I think that booksellers at least ought to try to depict the actual book they are selling! I’m sorry you ended up so frustrated. I would be frustrated as well!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve never had this happen to me specifically, but then again I’ve never tried to purchase a specific edition of a book off a third party on Amazon… Every time I’ve purchased a book off Amazon or TBD, it’s always the cover/edition I was expecting. I can definitely understand why you would be upset & frustrated though! Cover art is also important to me, so if I am ordering a book wanting a specific cover, I would expect that book to arrive. I don’t understand how these books with different covers can all have the same ISBN numbers?!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah it doesn’t seem right. I would think there has to be some way using a code or something to differentiate between different cover art. Why bother to make different covers if there’s no way to mark them as such without physically seeing it?

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow, what a post! (Don’t worry, I don’t think you’re a whiny brat at all!) This has never happened to me before, but I think this is peculiar. Why advertise one cover and sell another?

    Perhaps me not encountering this is simply because I don’t buy online very often due to the expensive cost of shipping to New Zealand. While I love Book Depository, I usually have book vouchers for local stores, so this makes it easier for me.

    I have a habit of special ordering books, and I usually am quite specific with editions but have never used ISBNs, rather the title, author and edition (paperback/hardcover). This has never failed me before! Your experiences with this seems to be unsatisfactory though, I wonder why they don’t bother to use the correct cover!

    Liked by 1 person

        1. You would think so, but apparently this isn’t the case. I think they’re linked more to the edition of the text and the publisher? I don’t really know…


  4. That’s happened to me before when ordering on Amazon. I was looking for old editions of the Song of the Lioness books, but end up with copies that have a black cover with the illustrations on the front, which I didn’t like much. After that and a couple other incidents, I stopped ordering physical copies from Amazon.
    Regarding ISBNs, when I was cataloging my copy of Rosie Garland’s Vixen, I realized that its ISBN is the same as that for a textbook (I think it’s an econ textbook), which I thought was really weird. I wonder if the recycle ISBN numbers.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I bet they do recycle older isbns. I know sometimes e-books come up on my library site as well, so there doesn’t seem to always be a difference between the physical and ecopy of a book. It’s all very frustrating. I just placed a book outlet order Friday and they happened to have shiverton hall for a couple bucks so I took a gamble on it.


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