Thursday, January 26, 2012

Do You Judge A Book By Its Cover? I Do.

I loved the following article, from my beloved Shelf Awareness. I definitely snoop and sneak peeks at the covers of books people are reading and, all things being equal on a bookshelf, I'll definitely gravitate to a beautiful cover. (Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.) What about you? Do you sneak peeks? Have you ever bought a book purely for its cover?

Judging a Book by Its Cover, by Marilyn Dahl

Last week we wrote about handselling books and the power of recommendations--from a bookseller, from a friend, from book reviews. Those are proactive means of promoting a book, and are powerful, but there is another way to "handsell" a book, one that is passive. Maybe it could be called secondary advertising. It's selling by book cover.

On an airplane, do you notice what people are reading? Do you surreptitiously contort a bit to see a cover? Do you think about the (usually) men who are reading genre thrillers quite openly while women seem to hide romances? Same thing on the bus or subway or in cafes at lunchtime. Checking out book covers brings many pleasures; it also subtly imprints a book in your mind. After you've seen 12 people reading American Dervish or The Rook, you think, hmmm... maybe you'd better check it out. If two or three people on the bus are reading Pity the Billionaire, your political leanings are validated (at least for one zone). Or you spot people reading the latest Michael Connelly, The Drop, and you realize that one of your favorite authors has a new book out. And it's always interesting to check out someone's bookshelves or to casually place a very impressive title on your own coffee table (don't forget a bookmark about halfway through).

With e-books, there are no book covers. There's no tipping point reached by cover art, no visual validation of your own reading tastes. What will replace this passive advertising? Is it even a worry? A recent survey found a plateauing of e-book reader adoption (December sales notwithstanding)--52% of readers say they are "not at all likely" to buy an e-reader; additionally, e-reader owners buy almost as many printed books as e-books. Good news for people who like cover art, for publishers who devote so much time and money to cover art, and for those of us who like to see what others are reading (or proclaim our own good taste). There are many good reasons to use e-books, but don't forget--it's really hard for authors to sign them. --Marilyn Dahl, book review editor, Shelf Awareness


  1. I've never bought a book purely for its cover, but I think the cover/spine could actually get me to pick up a book and read the back, which MAY make me buy the book. I recently talked to a teen who described the same thing--the cover draws her in and gets her to give the book a chance. With my old Kindle, I never saw covers, so it didn't make much difference. Now that I have a Kindle Fire, I'm looking through my library and thinking, "wow! Look at all these pretty covers!" for books I read over the past two years.

  2. Never bought one for it's cover, but it's the cover that makes me look at it in the first place.

  3. First, let me gush over that book is dazzling..and yes, I am going to check out that book because of it....
    I am a neck craner....I have to see what people are reading...and when I peruse a book shelf at the is the cover that makes me pick it up....this is the first step to buying it...then I read the jacket...hmmm...sounds good...I buy

  4. I love seeing what people are reading, and if it's on an e-reader, I usually ask. :-)

    Covers are a bit of magic for me. I don't usually buy one based on the cover, but I certainly look for carefully at books based on their covers. For instance, I don not like photo covers as well as hand-drawn ones--there's less to imagine I suppose. But here's the magic, the cover means much more to me AFTER reading the book because I understand all its nuances.

  5. For me, I'd say a good cover OR a catchy title are equally likely to make me pick up a book I've never heard of before in a bookstore. But then I'd always read the back and the first few pages before deciding whether to buy it, put it on my list for the library, or forget about it.

  6. A gorgeous cover WILL make me pick a book up, and then I WILL read it. But I get most of my books from the library. I only buy books I haven't read by authors I already trust.

  7. I'm embarrassed that I didn't proof my comment before clicking publish. When you emailed your response to me last night, Michael, I looked back at my comment and smacked my forehead. Sheesh. It should say, "...I certainly look carefully at..." and "...I do not like..."

  8. I am totally a cover girl, so much so, that I stopped using my KOBO (first generation) and started download books on my iPod Touch. My COLOR iPod Touch. Of course now KOBO is available in color for cover girls and boys like us. :D

  9. Certain kinds of cover will put me off a book. And I freely admit that I once bought a remaindered paperback just because it had a Chinese bronze dragon on the spine. (It's now an old favourite)

    I miss being able to see what people are reading on the bus/train now that e-readers are increasingly common.


If comments be the food of love, comment on. Give me excess of them... (With apologies to The Bard)