Study Shows Readers Judge a Book by its Cover

BooksandtoteContrary to the saying that we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, readers, in fact, pick books and form expectations based on covers, according to a study by Jellybooks.

Jellybooks, a U.K.-based startup, recently released results of two analytics tests it conducted for traditional book publishers. The test results showed that “the humble cover is no longer just a dust jacket, but a key element in the sales and marketing campaign for any book,” wrote Andrew Rhomberg, Jellybooks founder, in an article for Digital World. Part of Jellybooks’ mission is to study book discoverability and reader analytics.

Dashed Reader Expectations

In the first test, readers were given a book with a well-designed cover featuring a single image. Readers reported that based on the cover, they had expected to read a crime novel or a spy thriller, but instead, they found out it was a nonfiction book about a segment of CIA’s post-war history.

The readers’ dashed expectations resulted in a 60 percent drop in reader engagement during the initial chapters—as soon as they realized it wasn’t the book they expected to read.

Jellybooks concluded that:

  • When presented with 20 or more titles, readers chose books based on their covers instead of synopsis.
  • Book covers shape reader expectations about the content that affects completion.

Can a Cover be Too Smart?

In the second test, a thriller with a “smart” cover outside of genre conventions backfired. The book didn’t perform well, even though readers who finished the book praised it for its content. Many of the test participants said the cover was “weird.”

The test concluded that the book was great, but the cover was not something readers of the thriller genre were accustomed to.

Read the entire story:

It’s the Cover, Stupid! Why Publishers Should A/B Test Covers

Read a story about another Jellybooks study:

Study Shows Men Give Up on Books Faster than Women


Leave a comment


  1. I always thought that was the case.

    • What’s surprising is the extent a book cover influenced readers’ expectations. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. I believe this to be true………..

  3. I’m not surprised at all. I’m going through my books and updating covers (same blurb, same content). The sales have gone up without any additional promotion. It’s just the cover. I suspected it, but am now experiencing it first hand 🙂

  4. Not surprised by this at all — I read more (and hear more) about the importance of “optics” and their ever-increasing impact on our mindset.

  5. Like everyone else here I am not surprised either! I pick up a book based on the blurb and cover. Book covers are important like Rhomberg says – if publishers don’t get it right then sales will fall. And it’s all too important in an age where eBooks exist. And since eBooks have been around, I’ve found that some publishers are actually putting more effort into making their books look wonderful.

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