As someone who, in their day job, works in design and desktop publishing, I understand the need for stock photography. It can be a problem, though. If you work for a very small, not-for-profit organisation, as I do, you usually end up having to use free stock photos, which gives you a pretty limited range.
For bigger organisations, like publishing houses, it's usually possible to buy an image you want for your book covers. The problem is finding an image that fits. Sometimes, however, different designers like the same image enough to use it on different projects. Then you end up with this sort of thing.
The image on the left is the hardcover for the US edition of Margot Livesey's Eva Moves the Furniture, first published on 11 September, 2001. The image on the right is the UK paperback original cover for Lisa Moore's Open, a collection of short stories. This edition came out in 2007; the Canadian original came out in 2002.
The UK edition of Eva and the Canadian edition of Open did not share covers. The feel for the Eva cover does still seem to match the mood of the original, while the Canadian Open cover is quite different. Once you read the book, you're left wondering whether what appears to be a sexy woman in a bikini is actually one of the first story's Italian transsexuals with "perfect breasts".
There is a more dramatic example of the perils of using stock photography, however. It's a shame, in a way, because the image itself is a perfect fit for all of the books it has been used for. Unfortunately, the over-exposure of appearing on four different, unrelated books, plus being inset onto every book in a series, does blunt its effectiveness.
The first book is the collection of Somerset Maugham's World War One spy stories, featuring the downbeat, un-James-Bond-like Ashenden. The second is the first of Alan Furst's wonderful World War Two thrillers about a film director working for the Resistance in occupies Paris. The third is a sample from the US covers for the excellent Georges Simenon mysteries starring Inspector Maigret--the hatted man lighting his pipe is on all the covers. The fourth cover is from a non-fiction book about the French Resistance, while the fifth is from the excellent novel by John Lawton about a police detective working in London during the Blitz.
As I said, the image works well for every one of these books. It's just a shame it has now been so over-used.