Judging a book by its cover: What influences readers to make a purchase?

We ask book buyers a lot of questions in our quarterly consumer surveying to figure out who they are, how they shop, and what they're buying. (You can find a lot of these results in our research.) Not too long ago, we added a few questions to zero in on the various elements that influence readers to purchase a particular book. Are they won over by a stirring synopsis? Are they lured by a dazzling cover? Do they care about endorsements? We asked and they answered, so let's take a look at what the results tell us.

Familiarity is king

To the chagrin of debut authors everywhere, the most influential factor is a pre-existing familiarity with an author, with 35.5% of Canadian readers identifying it as the most important influence on their decision to read or listen to a book. Though this isn't to say that readers have to be familiar with the author based on previous books published — the author can be a celebrity, a social media guru, a politician, or be featured in the news. There are many ways to establish familiarity with potential readers.

Coming in second was "read a synopsis or sample" at 25.8%. In fact, our consumer surveying shows that in 2017, 15% of book buyers reported that they had "downloaded a free extract/sample chapter of a book" in the previous year. This means authors and publishers should be making sure that this copy is top-notch and that it's being supplied anywhere the metadata is flowing! (Are you submitting your data to BiblioShare and want to make sure we're getting your book samples? Learn more about submitting this information here.)

The trend of familiarity as a key influencer continues: 17.2% of book buyers said that "familiarity with the series" was the most influential factor for them, making it the third overall. After all, once you read the first book, you just have to keep going.

Percentage of people who rank each option first in terms of how much they influence which books they read/listen to:

  1. Familiarity with the author - 35.5%

  2. Read a synopsis - 25.8%

  3. Familiarity with the series - 17.2%

  4. Cover design - 6.9%

  5. Awards and bestseller stickers/badges - 6.5%

  6. Saw an ad for the book - 4.7%

  7. Author or celebrity endorsement - 3.1%

From discoverability to the decision to purchase

Meanwhile, endorsements, badges/stickers for awards and bestseller lists, cover design, and advertisements all came in with less than 7% of responses. But that doesn't mean these factors aren't important when it comes to getting a reader's attention before they commit to buying. The journey from discovery to purchase can be a long one with many pitstops, and we were only asking about the biggest influences on that all-important final step: the purchase. So don't forgo all your ads or beautiful cover designs just yet.

Want more information on increasing the initial discoverability of your books? We've got tips for that.