Readers know not to judge a book by its cover, but how much of an effect does the cover have on reader choice?
Successfully intriguing readers from the start usually relies on the power of design. Book covers offer the first glimpse into the content of a given text. That first glimpse can be the sole deciding factor in determining whether the potential readers pick up the book or not. Children’s books, for example, entice their young target audience with colors, typefaces, and images. While children’s tastes are well-known and easily identified, evaluating the preferences of older audiences proves more complex.
A study performed by Arūnas Gudinavičius and Andrius Šuminas (2017) titled “Choosing a Book by Its Cover: Analysis of a Reader’s Choice” explores whether the color of book covers affects reader preferences. Gudinavičius and Šuminas note, “A significant role is played by a book cover as an important tool of communication with the reader” (2017, 431).
To explore how book covers communicate with readers, specifically how participant demographics relate to color choice in covers, the two researchers put together their experiment. The researchers conducted an eye-tracking experiment using a laptop located at bookstores and libraries with an online bookshelf of 18 covers for participants to choose from. The 18 book covers they selected fell into three different color categories: warm (red, orange, yellow), cool (blue, green, purple), and black-and-white. A random participant sample from various ages and genders linked up to the mobile eye-tracking laboratory (a laptop with the necessary eye-tracker and eye-tracking software) and selected one of the covers. Participant book choice and gaze duration were recorded.
The experiment’s findings suggested that “women from the age group 18–35 prefer books with cool color covers,” though the preference does not continue in older age groups (2017, 430). Additionally, it showed that men above the age of 56 prefer books with warm color covers. The researchers also noted that there is a strong correlation between women’s color preferences and the time they spend looking at the books. The same correlation was not found for men.
This study suggests that cover preferences appear to vary and change according to gender and age. As publishers, this knowledge affects how we decide to market our book products both online and in store. When we recognize that certain colors and designs attract specific demographics, we can adjust our decisions with authors and illustrators to accommodate our target audiences. Stated simply, the market success of a book hinges upon understanding the preferences a target audience holds. New books are published daily, both in print and online; to grab a reader’s attention, the book cover should fall into their target audience’s preferences.
To learn more about book cover color preferences, read the full article:
Gudinavičius, Arūnas and Andrius Šuminas. 2018. “Choosing a Book by Its Cover: Analysis of a Reader’s Choice.” Journal of Documentation, 74 (2): 430–446. https://doi.org/10.1108/JD-09-2016-0111
—Rachel Roberts, Editing Research
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Find more research
To uncover the role of typeface in cover design, read an Editing Research article by Pamela Nelson “Tired of ‘Safe’ Typefaces? Letterforms J-a-g-e-n to the Rescue.”
To discover the implications of digital book covers, read Sophie Darling’s (2019) article: “How Are Book Covers and Their Components Represented in the Digital Market?” Interscript UCL Journal of Publishing 2 (1): 20–35. https://doi.org/10.14324/111.444.2398-4732.004.
To read more about how a book cover’s color and typeface influence readers’ choices, read Shoko Nakahata et al.’s (2016) article: “Effects of Color of Book Cover and Typeface of Title and Author Name on Gaze Duration and Choice Behavior for Books: Evidence from an Eye-tracking Experiment.” Proceedings of the Association for Information Science and Technology 53 (1): 1–4. https://doi.org/10.1002/pra2.2016.14505301100.