Paperback bias? 57% literally judge a book by its cover

NEW YORK — Nearly six in 10 (57%) Americans have bought or read a book based solely on its cover, a new survey reveals. The poll of 2,000 adults finds that, surprisingly, a whopping 96 percent of those who did so say the book largely met their expectations. However, eight in 10 (80%) admit to avoiding a book because of its outward appearance.

So, what are the top reasons for these preconceptions? Respondents say the book cover looked too plain (61%), used a title font that wasn’t likable (56%), featured art that didn’t match the genre (52%), or used the movie poster of the book’s film adaptation (49%).

Conducted by OnePoll on behalf of ThriftBooks, the research also discovered which elements make the best book covers. People note a detailed illustration is important (53%), as is an image of the story’s setting (53%). Other callouts are a compelling color palette (50%) and an image of the protagonist (47%).

Respondents share their favorite covers of the books they’ve read, including “Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill, “Atomic Habits” by James Clear, “Misery” by Stephen King, “Harry Potter” by J. K. Rowling, the “Twilight” series by Stephanie Meyer, “Fifty Shades of Gray” by E. L. James, and books by Danielle Steel.

When it comes to the winter holidays, over half (53%) regularly give books as gifts to others. The top genres for gifted books include romance (47%), fantasy (45%), comedy (40%), sci-fi (39%), and history (39%).

infographic about how much people read per month.
(Credit: SWNS)

Two-thirds (67%) also admit they only read books that have been adapted into movies or TV shows. Overall, the average person reads eight books a month, totaling almost 100 books a year. 

Surprisingly, though, the biggest factors that influence what type of books people buy as gifts are their presence on a well-known bestseller list (44%), social media buzz (29%), and the cover (29%) — much more so than genre (10%) or even the author (9%).

“Books make for a great holiday gift, no matter the recipient,” says a spokesperson for ThriftBooks in a statement. “From classic favorites and book-to-movie adaptations to short or long stories, there are as many books to choose from as there are types of readers, making it easy to find something for everyone on your list this holiday season.”

Additionally, the survey reveals the different habits of day and night readers. If you consider yourself an avid reader, you most likely read during the day rather than at night (88% vs. 69%). Among day readers, nearly two-thirds (65%) attribute their preference to avoiding nightmares based on their reading material, while over half (52%) want to escape to another place during the day. 

Day readers are also more likely than night readers to prefer to read while surrounded by others (49% vs. 36%). Nighttime reading may have its advantages, though. Fifty-six percent of those who read at night said it helps them get better shuteye and 55 percent note it helps them fall asleep faster.

“Our research shows that sometimes, readers can tap into their experience to correctly predict whether they’ll like a book based on its cover alone,” the spokesperson adds. “Although readers differ in how and when they enjoy their favorites, they all find ways to enhance their daily lives through reading.”

Survey methodology:

This random double-opt-in survey of 2,000 general population Americans was commissioned by ThriftBooks between Oct. 10 and Oct. 17, 2023. It was conducted by market research company OnePoll, whose team members are members of the Market Research Society and have corporate membership to the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) and the European Society for Opinion and Marketing Research (ESOMAR).

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  1. I would love to find confirming research for this article.
    “Overall, the average person reads eight books a month, totaling almost 100 books a year.”
    You can be sure that this study was funded by a publishing company and/or bookstore.
    You would find it hard to find people who had read 8 books since leaving college or high school.
    PS Illustrated ‘books’ ie Comics, do not count as books, despite the claims of Marvel and characters in The Big Bang Theory..
    PPS A study on literature by person or persons who cannot spell totalling, hardly inspires confidence.

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