Trend towards illustrations: books are becoming more and more beautiful

Status: 10/22/2021 6:11 p.m.

The publishing industry is feeling an increased demand for lavishly designed works. The readers apparently like to spend a few euros more on this. But the money does not get through to the draughtsmen well.

For Verena Flor, luxuriously presented books seem like a rejuvenation treatment. Not for you personally, but for your industry. “Because that’s the big problem with us in the book trade: the audience is getting older.” The bookseller works in the Thalia branch in Hagen and has been observing a trend towards beautiful books for a long time.

“It started with classic editions,” she says, citing Coppenrath-Verlag as an example, which now sells novels by Theodor Fontane, Lew Tolstoy and Gustave Flaubert in jewelry editions. That means: elaborately decorated and illustrated hardcover, made of fine textured paper, the title label partially covered with gold foil. In the book the reader will find not only floral patterns, but also drawings and graphics as extras.

“The concept works, not only for older, but also for younger readers,” says Flor. However, the classic editions have their price: Each copy costs between 22 and 44 euros.

“Presenting books more beautifully is the trend,” said illustrator Kat Menschik.

Bild: picture alliance / dpa

Illustrations for adults and children

“Presenting books more and more beautifully is the trend, definitely”, registered Kat Menschik. The 53-year-old illustrator lives near Wriezen in Brandenburg and is one of the best-known representatives of her guild. She has her own series in the Galiani publishing house called “Illustrierte Favorite Books” and regularly beautifies the pages of the “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung”.

“Ten or 15 years ago I still had to defeat the publishers. Back then they said: Illustrations for adults, nobody needs that. That has completely changed,” she says. Most drawings still appear in children’s books, but the joy of decorating has long since shown itself in other genres of literature: the illustrated cookbook, the crime thriller with full-page illustrations, the historical non-fiction book with elaborate design.

Menschik is also reminiscent of the book as a decorative item and in this context mentions the so-called coffee table books, often large-format illustrated books. “When I buy books, read them and then put them on the shelf, it’s great when they look nice too,” says Menschik.

Illustrations are no longer limited to children’s books, but are also in demand in books for adults.

Bild: picture alliance / dpa

No data on beautiful books

Many in the industry feel the trend towards illustration, but hard facts can hardly prove it. At the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels one immediately waves it away. Elaborately illustrated books could not be put into any category in order to be able to make statements about increasing sales figures or the like. Publishers such as RandomHouse or Hanser also do not have any economic data ready on request. Gerhard Lauer, deputy chairman of the International Society for Book Studies, has at least an explanation for a long-term trend. He writes “that much more is invested in book equipment, including illustrations, than it was 50 years ago, also because the costs for it have become so much lower thanks to the digitization of printing”.

It is easier to look at specific projects. Wolfgang Hörner, head of program at Galiani-Verlag, recalls a book he published in October 2020: “World of the Renaissance”, edited by Tobias Roth. An elaborate collection of poetry and prose from the time, the 640 pages cost a proud 89 euros. “The first edition of 10,000 copies was sold out after a month and a half,” says Hörner. He believes that the surprisingly high demand was also due to the elaborate design.

Solid order situation, small fees

The more expensive illustrated books are financially attractive for the industry. The production costs are indeed higher, but the publishers could also charge a higher price for it, and in the end a higher percentage of profit returns. Similar to red wine in the supermarket: the sinfully expensive bottle throws off more than the cheap mass-produced goods, even if the latter is of course sold much more often.

For the draftsmen, almost all freelancers, the order situation does not seem to be bad at the moment. Menschik reports that she keeps having to cancel jobs because she has so much to do. That is probably due to her level of awareness, which she has now earned. For many other illustrators, however, the situation is not so easy. “On average, fees in the book market are stagnating at a level that is too low,” says Annika Siems, chairwoman of the Illustratoren Organization (IO). “It is not easy to support a family with a job.”

Higher earnings outside of the book industry

If you want to get an idea of ​​the gross monthly wage, you can refer to the Federal Employment Agency’s remuneration atlas. Book illustrators in particular do not appear in it, but related professions. For example, comic artists in Germany earn a median of EUR 3,174 gross per month, most graphic designers and creators earn EUR 3,317, and medical illustrators earn EUR 3301 gross.

Siems believes “that few illustrators get a good living”. She says that some of her colleagues are now accepting orders from companies outside the book industry, such as corporations such as Siemens, Deutsche Bank and Co. They commission a draftsman for a day to do what is known as graphic recording. Ideas and information, whether at a strategy meeting or a conference, are visually logged with the help of drawings. The companies often pay attractive daily rates for this.

Expensive classic in a leather binding

Nevertheless, the beautification of books is currently highly valued. The question that remains is how much money readers are actually willing to spend to buy a lavishly illustrated book. Verena Flor is currently exploring the pain threshold of her customers in the Thalia branch in Hagen: Among other things, there is a limited luxury leather edition of Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” on the book table. Among other things, the book comes with two ribbon bookmarks, a four-color text print with high-quality gold embossing and a fold-out card. The price: 900 euros.

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