If you’re a book nerd like me then you are quite aware of the amazing book cover posters that line the walls at Barnes and Nobel. If you’re an extreme book nerd like me then you are also aware that finding these posters for sale is almost impossible, but after a little bit of foot work and a few emails I’ve tracked down the source of these literature beauties.
The website is BuyEnLarge.com and they are the art source for large companies, including Barnes and Nobel, Art.com, Getty Images and many more. Before you begin to question how one company alone can be the source for these images let me explain; they own the licensing to the original artwork.
No, the family doesn’t have distant family ties to Fitzgerald, Pynchon or Steinbeck. As professional art collectors, they acquire the images’ original file through friends, art collectors and direct purchases.
“I have the art background so I know how to gain the original access to find the product. When you’re in rarefied air you know other people who live in rarefied air, so a lot of the stuff we digitize. Some we buy, some we get because our friends own the originals and some we own,” said BuyEnLarge President Sara Pierce. “It’s not a cheap business to go into. This is not a hot dog stand that anyone can open, it’s heavy dollars up front to get started and it takes an awful long time to get a return.”
After acquiring the original images they go through the hoops to own the rights and license to the image. Established by Pierce and her husband, the corporation has a family foundation, right down to their son, the company lawyer, who makes sure the business follows all the rules of copyright and licensing laws.
“We follow the rules and we never violate any rights. If the artist hasn’t been dead for 70 years we don’t touch the stuff, but if they’ve been dead for 70 years and they don’t have protected works then we will reproduce them if we can get a hold of the original product. 80% of the images are public domain, but you can’t find it anywhere because no one has the license to duplicate them, we do,” said Pierce, as she broke down the process of attaining licensing and copyright. “When they take a copyright out on the book they don’t include the cover, so the reality is that most covers aren’t protected but the books are. People come out of the woodwork all the time who own the copyright to the book, but they do not have the rights to the cover art, no one ever thought to do it. Who would think that one day people would want to start reproducing the covers of books?
“We print from our archives and we license to the right management groups so they can also sell these art pieces. A lot of the products, we have the original pieces and we scanned them and set up the licensing for them. People buy the license for certain images. When they buy the license from us they can then sell and modify the images as they wish. We don’t care if people modify the original images as long as they sell and we get checks.”
According to Pierce, the largest portion of the company’s business is overseas in Japan, followed by major bookstores, academic publishers and the media.
“Our biggest clientele is the bookstores, but bookstores are being turned into cafes because no books are selling anymore, bookstores are on their way out. I think books are too much trouble to schlep around anymore; it’s all going digital. I’m in between a rock and a hard place because I have not replaced Barnes and Nobel [as a client] because there is no replacement for that order, but we license images and they [businesses who purchase a license] physically make the products and give us commissions. We wind up with the same amount of money and less hassle and overhead,” said Pierce. “As everything goes digital we have to completely adapt by increasing our database so we can increase our digital files we license.”
To date, the Pierce family’s company has around 50 to 60 thousand images digitized in their archives. Of the well-known suppliers they license to, Art.com has purchased licensing to about 36,000 of these images and Getty Images has purchased about 50,000 of the BuyEnLarge image licenses.
“I’ll continue this forever, until my last breathe because the more images you have the more money you make and it’s fun you get to go to the ephemera shows where they have old documents and maps,” said Pierce.
While the company holds the licensing for most all the visual elements for the best classic literature and us literature-loving commoners may not be able to purchase a license or track down an original classic book cover file, we can turn to Pierce’s company for prints and posters while continuously being infatuated with the pages of scrolling graphics that highlight the literature loves of our lives.