So I love the lo-fi art, the works of hand-drawn, fan-drawn pictures that graced the covers of 'zines, and the pages of RPG books. I also understand that even back in the seventies and eighties, those weren't the sorts of things that made it on to professionally published publications.
The thing about the professionally painted (or whatever) covers of that era is that they didn't look like they could be on a romance or airport thriller. They only thing a Michael Whelan or Frank Frazetta S&S cover could be was a S&S cover. The pulp roots showed thru, loudly and majestically.
Here's four sets of covers, chosen because I love the old one, and the thematic similarity of the new one. This is not a comment on the stories themselves. I've only read (and enjoyed) Robin Hobb's writing (though not the book shown). The others are names I know, but haven't crossed my desk or caught my attention. I just know they're popular and get some pretty good notices.
Nonetheless, their books, at least these ones, have crappy covers. In no case would I buy the new book instead of the old one based on the cover.
Sword-wielding women with visible skin. The first, though, also hints at the world and the existence of other characters. And the woman looks like she could kick your ass. The Brett woman is a pouty girl covered in henna tattoos and probably reeks of patchouli.
Note: I know Gates is really sci-fi, but the book is planetary adventure is cast from the same mold as S&S.
I don't hate the Sanderson cover, but it just can't compare to Hodgell's. The new cover's thief looks like she exists independently of an external world, just floating there. Hodgell's heroine exists in an urban landscape of tile, masonry, and strange figures fishing the streets below. It looks interesting, it's luring me inside with the promise of the strange and weird, not just some generic character.
Yeah, no. Death Angel's Shadow is my favorite Kane cover, rejecting the fur-loincloth depiction of the Frazetta Kane and making him look like the brooding, blue-eyed killer from the stories. Stover's guy looks like David Hasselhoff in a Neil Diamond's suit.
Of all these new covers, this one's my favorite, and not because it's simply the least bad. I the tree limbs materializing through the falling snow, looking like monstrous growths from the warrior's back. Put up next to Whelan's Elric, though, you realize it could just as easily come be on a historical novel. There's nothing that really says "fantasy," let alone heroic fantasy. It doesn't help that his expression is bland. He's looking off to the left with a little Clint Eastwood squint, but no real visible emotion. Elric is downright scary. You can tell he's a threat and that he's facing down something right now. Then there's the elaborate detail of the ship's stern and the crowd of men behind Elric, almost cowering in fear from whatever he's preparing to kill.
If I was more aware of new fantasy I could probably do this all day. I think these four sets are enough to make my point. Sure, not scientifically, but enough.