That's really interesting, Terry. Light-hearted but also insightful, ISTM.
This was discussed on a US forum I'm on, which includes a lot of commercial writers. Their view was perhaps slightly different to just seeing these as cliches. They believe there can be a legitimate usage of effective, common images but if over-used will slip into cliche.
The lazy stereotypical treatment of bookcovers is one of my particular bÍtes noir, even so I was shocked to see so many duplications of the same image - shows a lack of care to an astonishing degree and strengthens the case for DIY. Thanks for posting this Terry.
Some of the period ones are the same archive photo. The trouble is that there just aren't that many suitable photos to choose from, because you can't dress up models and have it look even remotely authentic (which is why all the headless bodices on women's hist fic always look so totally unconvincing). You can't get the fabrics or the underwear, and women aren't the same shape these days. If you want it to be right, it has to be the real thing. There was another pair, recently, where two big publishers had used the same archive photo with a woman in a 1940s dress on a tractor. Can't remember what the books were, but it was just very bad luck on the designers.
And I've seen the red-macintoshed woman on the front of the US edition of A Secret Alchemy on at least one other book. Doesn't bother me.
It was quite comic to watch all the me-too versions of the fantastic original Twilight covers (which were extremely good, whatever you think of the books).
The thing is, though, that 50% of what a cover is doing is, exactly, a stereotype: it's sending out a "If you like X, you'll like This" message. That's its job. Covers are advertising, not writing, and the message has to be clear and immediately apprehensible to the browsing buyer.
Unless you can honestly say that you've never ignored a book because it had a certain kind of cover (say, all vampire face and blood-dripping letters), or never picked up a book because it had a certain kind of cover, (think green Viragos) then you've had the message work on you. And yes, literary fiction has just as strong a message - just a different one.
So, as with all these things, there's a natural curve to it. In the 1980s, there was a dictum that books jacketed in white didn't sell. When Black Swan put Mary Wesley and Joanna Trollope into white, with a watercolour in the middle, it was a bold move and they were absolutely unmistakable. As I liked MW and JT, I did pick up others that were covered like that, and some were good, and some weren't. Eventually, as with all sub-genres that are a smash hit for a bit, the good writers moved on from Aga Saga, the writers left were not very good, and that sub-genre died. JT's covers aren't like that at all now.
Something very similar happened with the classic early chick-lit covers, all bright colours and witty stick-figures: the first few were witty and original, the bulk that followed were just well-labelled, and eventually the market tired of it, and anyone wanting to sell comic commercial women's fiction aimed at that demographic had to think of another way of indicating what it was. I notice that shoes and champagne glasses usually feature...