[N.B. The images in this post will likely not be aligned in any sort of pleasing fashion. Sorry in advance.]
I first noticed this back in January but was reminded today with the arrival of Jim Lynch's Border Songs in paperback. Here's the hardcover jacket, followed by the paperback cover:
I know, right? We've got Crazy Seraphim Glob, and...cow. Cow crossing nondescript highway.
Some others, all from Random House, all evocative hardcover above, generic paperback below:
Srsly. What is going on in the Random House paperback design department? These are from two different imprints (Vintage & Anchor), so the problem is spreading. And Vintage puts out some gorgeous classic reprints (cf. Forster's Where Angels Fear to Tread, or the recent line of Nabokov reissues [link goes to my fave, Pale Fire]). Shouldn't they know better? All of these seem to be repackaging the titles downward, from Literary Fiction to quasi-literary book club territory. I seem to recall Cutting for Stone being a Times bestseller in hardcover, though. It's fascinating to me how this works, or attempts to work; without changing the text of a title, you can change the audience.
Two more, non-Random House examples (they're just the worst offenders), the first from Grove/Atlantic (admittedly, the hardcover is no great shakes either), the second--and definitely the most awful downgrade--from Simon & Schuster: