People usually respond in one of two ways to the phenomenon of judging a book by its cover; they mourn man’s shallowness, or they consider a book’s marketing potential. But how much does the look of a book matter? How do people feel about book covers? And how do those feelings relate to the scores that books receive on review sites like Goodreads? Several digital technology people went on a mission to find out.
A year and a half ago Dean Casalena and Nate Gagnon launched Judgey, an online game that let people rank book covers. The covers used were all modern editions of books, and all (or nearly all) of them were released by a major publishing house. The covers chosen did not belong to a single genre. Books by Ernest Hemingway and Harper Lee appeared alongside Twilight and The Hunger Games. Ultimately players of Judgey evaluated over 3 million book covers.
Once they collected data, Casalena and Gagnon began to look at the numbers, and they discovered some interesting patterns.
- The politics of the book mattered. Some people assessed the cover of the book based on its assumed contents, which resulted in 5’s and 0’s regardless of book design.
- People ranked books that appeared early in the game more harshly than books that appeared later. (Perhaps that was a side effect of the name. “Judgey” seems to embrace judgement.)
- People almost inevitably ranked covers lower than the Goodreads ratings for books. This may be because the people who played the game were not necessarily readers or the audience for a particular book.
Though the Judgey is no longer functional, Casalena wrote a great article over on Medium that you can check out. You can also peruse a visualization that Casalena and Gagnon created of the Judgey cover ranking vs a book’s Goodreads score below. The chart has some fascinating information.