Judging a book by the cover

I have a confession to make: I judge books by the cover.

I can’t help myself — I trawl through dozens of bargain books several times a week, and I browse through book covers to “separate the wheat from the chaff,” so to speak, especially if I don’t recognize the book title or the author. And then when the cover captures my fancy, that’s the only time I’ll scan through the rest of the data: title, author, and the blurb.

It saves a lot of time, and the method has worked for me so far.

Another confession, and this is freakier: when I’m in a big hurry, I even judge books by the spine! I can actually spot the spines of certain book series I collect off the bat, I’ve practiced the cursory scan enough times to pick out the books I like!

And another confession — when I really like a book, I collect different covers that I like, which is how I came to amass a collection of over a hundred Harry Potter books in different languages!

Because I’m totally engrossed in reading book 3 of the Millennium trilogy, I’ll leave you with an article I wrote for Manila Bulletin Students and Campuses section this weekend. Feel free to add your thoughts on the subject in the comments section!


They say one should never judge a book by its cover, but book covers remain one of the top factors that influence the purchase of the book.

According to the 2007 National Book Development Board (NBDB) Readership Survey, 35 percent of Filipino non-school book readers (NSBs) pay attention to the packaging of a book, and 61 percent agree that books that look good are bought more.

Book covers spark the first connection between the book and a reader, especially for impulse purchases, and for books whose author or title the reader is not familiar with.

The Manila International Book Fair explores the phenomenon of the book cover, and how it serves as an important marketing tool that can capture the attention of a potential book buyer.

Now on its 31st anniversary, the Manila International Book Fair celebrates the written word on Sept. 15-19, at the SMX Convention Center.

The history

Books did not always come with covers. In the early 1800s, books were sold as a bundle of loose sheets, and book collectors commissioned book binders for their personal libraries, usually favoring the same handcrafted binding and cover for all of their books.

It was only in the 1820s when pre-bound, cloth-cover books were sold, often stamped with simple block illustrations. Dust jackets came about around the 1830s, duplicating the book cover but usually discarded like packaging.

As mass production techniques developed in the 1900s, covers became more decorative, and dust jackets also became an integral part of the book. By the 1950s, they became prime marketing space to attract buyers and readers to the contents of the book, incorporating not only cover art, but also summaries, recommended cover prices, author’s blurbs and photos.

Readers speak out

Not all readers regard the cover as a major consideration for purchasing a book. “The cover doesn’t really matter to me. I respond more to the price point, reviews, summaries, and genre,” notes geodetic engineer Maricris Ricana.

But in the sea of book covers that assault the sight in the storefront window or the rows and rows of shelves with each visit to the bookstore, book cover design can make a good first impression, leading to the purchase of a book.

“Book covers influence my decision to buy a book,” states book blogger Peter Sandico. “I hate garish designs, and I love subtle artwork in book covers.”

For medical intern Dianne Singson, the cover is a deciding factor. “Book covers give me an idea about the tone of the book, which helps me decide whether I would like the book or not. I also collect books I like in various covers, and I buy some books thinking about how good they would look on my shelf.”

Most readers take it on a case to case basis.

“If I don’t know the author or have not heard about the book, the cover influences my judgement,” states microbiologist Mike Bahrami. “If I know about the author or have heard positive buzz about the title, I really don’t care what the cover looks like.”

“I look at the awards the book has received, the title, and the author,” adds crafter and illustrator Ajie Taduran. “New authors are tricky, so the cover is a big factor because I’m very visual.”

Likewise, trainer, teacher and book blogger Gege Sugue says that book covers attract her attention to works and authors she is not familiar with.

“Covers invite me to read the blurbs, reviews, summary, and even the first sentence. A great cover will not be enough reason for me to buy the book unless the other elements also interest me. A bad cover will not stop me from buying a book I really want,” Sugue explains.

“I often pick up a book because I like the cover. It’s a definite draw but I have to read the blurb or synopsis, and if I like what I read, then I go buy it,” quips Janise Ruiz, a marketing and business manager.

Resident physician Cecille Francisco agrees. “If the book cover is eye-catching or intriguing, it makes me pick the book up, but ultimately it’s the blurb that makes me decide to buy the book.”

For writer Cezar Tigno, not all books are judged by the cover. “I rarely bother with the cover when it comes to novels. But it’s a major consideration when I buy cookbooks, art books, and coffeetable books.”

“The cover is an indication of how good or bad the collective effort of the author, illustrator, editor and publisher is,“ puts in content editor Michelle Ciriacruz. “An attractive cover will catch my eye, but story and personal taste will still determine whether I buy it or not.”


P.S. It’s my cousin Dianne’s turn this year to blog about Harry Potter’s birthday (I did a series last year), do check it out at http://acciobooks.blogspot.com/.

Now let me get back to reading about Lisbeth Salander!

26 thoughts on “Judging a book by the cover”

  1. i judge books by the cover too, esp. if its in a bargain bin. i LOVE pretty books. so don’t feel bad, blooey. :)

    this is a great article, and i love how all the bookmoochers’ 10 cents are there! great job!

    1. Hehehe, Aloi. It’s great to have friends as crazy about books as you all are, when you need responses to articles like this, they’re all texting their replies within five minutes!

  2. This post (well done, Blooey!) is relevant to my interests. :)

    Paint me red and call me shallow, but I do judge a book by its cover. It’s this habit of mine that introduced me to some of the best book cover designers that I wouldn’t have bothered knowing about were I not too keen on paying attention (undue, some people might argue) to book covers. My favorite is Jonathan Gray aka gray318. His designs are invariably original and refreshing. His style is utterly distinctive that it’s hard for me not to recognize a gray318-designed book even from yards away. I had even bought books I’d never heard about solely because the covers were designed by him! Haha.

    I also collect multiple copies with different covers of books that I really like, including White Noise, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Then We Came to the End. My ultimate goal, though, is to collect all extant editions of my personal Bible, The Catcher in the Rye — a feat which entails scouring eBay and Amazon for hours on end every week for reasonably priced old ones.

    Going back to your article — I’d have liked to read what you and other people think of generally not being able to judge an e-book by its cover. Haha. I’m not a fan of e-books, but recently I’ve been enjoying iBooks, which displays the books installed on the application on a shelf showing its book’s covers. Most of the books I’ve downloaded so far are from Project Gutenberg and they just come in plain text covers showing the title and the author. The only one with a bona fide cover is the complimentary Winnie-the-Pooh book. And surprise, surprise, that’s the only one I’ve read in my iBooks collection so far, which goes to show that my inclination towards good book cover design transcends media. Heh.

    1. You just gave me a dangerous idea.

      I collect children’s book illustrators and I can identify their style from the distance of the Book Sale entrance to the bargain rack (like you do with Gray) but I’ve never thought about collecting a particular book designer’s work!!!

      I am heady with the thought!

      I am collecting all the Harry Potters I can get my hands on, while for the other books I have multiple copies of, I just get the editions I like.

      You should do an entry on your cover collections, I’d love to see them. Do give me a holler if you ever blog about them.

    1. I wish someone would bottle the smell of books. I love the smell of both old and new books! Just not those that have been in smoking households.

  3. Great post :)
    I definitley tend to judge a book by its cover. I also have the habit of buying rereleases of books I love, even if I have the original.

  4. Hi Blooey! Thumbs up for a well-written article! ^_^

    Hmm… I can’t say I judge books by its cover. I mean, not always. I judge them by the title and the blurb (which are as vague).

    Recently I have decided to collect art fiction. So if the title gives me the clue that the author will be narrating stories involving paintings and painters, I go straight to the blurb. If my hunch was confirmed, then I buy the book regardless if the cover isn’t very promising. But, usually, after reading a book which I bought without considering if the cover is attractive or not, I actually tell myself that the author could do better in choosing a cover design.

    1. Art fiction! I love art fiction too, my favorites include The Ruby Ring by Diane Haeger, The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier, and Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant.

      I do judge the book by the cover, but when a title is arresting enough, I do look at the blurb. Sometimes, though I’ve turned down books that sounded interesting because I didn’t like the cover :D

  5. Hey Blooey! I echo everyone: great article!

    I just realized that I’m not much of a cover person after I read your article. True, I like nice covers, but I’m really more of a blurb person. Sometimes the blurbs get to me, sometimes they don’t. I can only recall a few times when I got a book because of it’s cover, and I think it’s only because I know the author. This is one of the reasons why I don’t buy hardbound books often — most of them don’t show any of the blurbs. :|

    But if I’m collecting a set of books because it’s a part of a set (ex. Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next or The Mortal Instruments series), the covers (and the format) matter. It just looks prettier on the shelf if all the covers and formats match.

    1. Thanks Tina! :) I do read blurbs too, although the cover is really the first thing I look at. I have a blurb-related pet peeve — because they’re often written by the marketing arm of the publisher, I get frustrated when the blurb misses the point of the whole novel or plays up something that the book barely touches on.

      I also judge books according to size and edition, which is another matter altogether, because I often only get to choose for brand new books. I prefer UK editions, if there’s a choice, and hardcovers if I’m dying to get the book. Then trade paperbacks over mass market paperbacks. If I like a paperback book well enough, I “do a Blooey,” as my book club friends call it, and upgrade to hardcovers.

  6. I did for the longest time. But now I’ve come to realize that I would have passed up a lot of great books if based just on covers. I’ve also picked up more than one book because of the cover, only to be really disappointed in what the read was.

    1. True, I know… For instance, I’d never have picked up Hunger Games on my own based on the cover. But it came so highly recommended I just had to try it, and it turned out to be one of my best reads last year!

  7. Uh oh….I must be the weirdo here.

    The first thing that grabs my attention when browsing a shelf of books is the title. The covers may well be a sea of colors to me when I’m looking at titles.

    When I see a title I like, I oftentimes grab a book and immediately read the blurb at the back. This is a must-see and usually the major factor of my book purchase. Of course, the sensational one-liners from major reviewers convince me more. Sometimes, I buy a book with only a cursory glance at the cover! Ha, ha!

    So I’ll still be happy with awful artwork on the cover as long as the blurb promises it to be a good read. I also don’t give a thought to whether it is paperback, hardbound, new or old, and have not a care about editions.

    Tee hee!

    1. :) Hey Jo! It’s good to hear another point of view.

      When a title jumps out from a stack of books I do tend to look, although I would still weigh it against how the cover appeals to me.

  8. I try to get a book in its “original” format – UK edition if the author is British, US if he/she is American. If it’s a translation, then whichever cover I like better. But the paper and print inside matter too – I feel the same way you do about US covers looking nicer for the Millenium trilogy, but the inside paper being nicer for UK editions.

    Of course with series, they must all be the same edition. My Harry Potters are UK editions because I bought the first 4 books in London, but my Ffordes are US because I found them all at Booksale, heehee.

    1. “original” formats — hmm, great idea!!!

      I had to get my millennium trilogy in different editions because no more trade paperbacks available. And this is weird, my copy of Dragon Tattoo is trade paperback but the paper is really crappy newsprint. My Fire and Hornet’s Nest are the UK mmps but the paper is good, and the binding is sturdy.

  9. I admit I also judge a book by its cover! haha ironically the opposite thing led me to my love for books (harry potter!!). I actually really didn’t like the cover harry potter that’s why I didn’t like to buy it and I couldn’t believe the hype (haha this was 10 year old me talking XD) but my mom wanted me to become an avid reader like my cuz, and writer better too and she thought that maybe reading what she read will help me. Haha now I’m very thankful!

    WOW what an extensive collection you have! I want to collect the UK ed only (so far I only have the 4th one…) but whoa!! I try to collect harry potter trinkets and memorabilia :D

    :(( I won’t be here during Manila Int Book Fair! I’ll be in France urgh, guess I’ll just ask my friends to scour for some titles XD

    1. The cover photo was actually the humble beginnings of my collection. I have over a hundred HP books now! I love Mary Grandpre’s art. The UK children’s covers are a bit weird, I like the UK adult editions better. I also love the Japanese, German, Italian, and Finnish editions!

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  11. Nice article! Ganun din ako I jusge the book by its cover. Tapos super OC ko pa pag dating sa version ng book. Pag nasimulan ko na nun ganun vesion dapat the rest ng series kapareho ng version.

  12. Covers are like come-hither winks that when especially done right just might do a potential buyer in. And that works for me every time. The Dude even tells me “oh, you and your covers” and I just laugh it off. I’m so happy I’m not the only one who’s guilty of this. Hehehe

    By, the way, I gave you an award for being such a splendid blogger: http://wp.me/p7Fut-m4

    And oh, whenever a friend or classmate comments how addicted I am to reading (I almost always have a book inside my bag), I always tell them, “oh you should meet my friend Blooey…she’s simply amazing”. ^_^

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