Can You Judge A Book By Its Cover? Probably Not.

Turns out you should think twice the next time a book cover catches your eye. An analysis of top rated book covers suggests that beautiful cover artwork tends to conceal below average books. As the old adage goes, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”

While beauty is certainly in the eye of the beholder, many recognize Design Observer’s 50 Books/50 Covers list as the gold standard for book cover design. In partnership with the American Institute of Graphic Art (AIGA), the list highlights the 50 best book cover designs of the previous year.

Judging the quality of a book itself is inherently subjective too. Readers are lucky to have many resources to help inform their buying decision—critic reviews and literary blogs to name a few. With more than 50 million members and 1.5 billion books in its database, Goodreads, which crowd sources reviews from readers, is a popular and thorough resource. Readers rate books on a scale of 1 to 5 with 3.98 being the average rating for books on the site.

So do beautiful books also make good reads?

To answer that question, we organized the books on Design Observer’s 2015 list by their current ratings (September 2016) on Goodreads.com. We weeded out books with fewer than five ratings, and of the 31 books that met our threshold for inclusion, only eight had above average ratings. In other words, an above average book cover (or in this case an award-winning book cover) contains an above-average book about 33 percent of the time.

The lesson: Buyer beware.

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