From Digital Book World:
Every publisher and bookseller knows that covers sell books. But do consumers also form expectations from looking at the cover? Well, based on the results of some of the initial reader analytics data at Jellybooks, we think they do.
. . . .
The first case shows how a cover shaped readers expectations. The cover was well designed and clearly aimed at grabbing book buyers’ attention both online and in physical bookstores. This particular cover had a single dominant color and “told a story” with a single image. But it seemed to have told the wrong story.
Users who picked the title in one of our test reading campaigns told us afterward that, based on the cover, they had expected to be reading a crime novel or perhaps a spy thriller. However, they were surprised to discover that the book was instead a work of non-fiction.
The narrative described a slice of post-war history at the Central Intelligence Agency. The spy and crime themes were there, but not in the novelized form readers had expected. As a result, the drop-off in reader engagement we measured during the initial chapters was swift and sharp (over 60 percent) when readers realized that this was not the book they had expected.
. . . .
The second example comes from a different reader analytics promotion. Once again, readers were allowed to choose from up to 20 titles on offer, but instead of being able to choose only one title, they were allowed to pick up to five. One title frequently chosen, though rarely as first or even second choice, was a psychological thriller with a somewhat quirky cover: a cat staring at the consumer. Astounding, though, were the results for this book relative to its sales.
The book was a debut novel from recent years for which the publisher had held very high expectations. However, sales had been poor. In a rare case of post-mortem “what went wrong,” the publisher had the courage to investigate whether the content or the publisher’s marketing was at fault. The reader analytics showed that the content was not responsible for the poor sales performance:
i. The book had an exceptionally high completion rate: more than 75 percent of those who tried the book finished it—a rate achieved by fewer than 5 percent of books that we test.
ii. The thriller had a very high velocity. Readers were glued to the pages, and a majority read the book from start to finish in just a few days.
iii. The book had an excellent recommendation factor based on the Net Promoter Score concept. Readers were strong promoters of the book, recommending it to their like-minded friends.
However, many test participants also noted that the cover was “weird.” Readers indicated that they really enjoyed discovering the book, but that based on the cover, they would never have picked it up in a bookstore. Well, why not?
The cover was clearly outside the genre conventions readers were familiar with and accustomed to.
. . . .
How does Jellybooks design A/B tests for book covers?
Test readers are invited as normal, but half the test audience is randomly selected to receive one cover, while the other half is selected to receive an alternative. Readers think we are measuring their reading behavior, as usual—which we are—but in addition we also look at:
i. Whether the cover influences which book is picked by test readers from a selection of available titles to read (remember that test readers do not know that there is more than one cover in play). Does one specific cover make it more likely that the book will be picked compared to an alternative?
ii. How completion rates, velocity and recommendation factor might be influenced by the cover, as the cover has created a particular “promise” or expectation for the reader. In other words, we are very specifically measuring whether a cover can influence the results of a reader analytics test and how strong that effect is. This kind of potential reader bias depends in part on whether readers form their expectations primarily based on the cover or on the synopsis of the book.
An A/B cover test might not perfectly replicate the environment, stimuli and selection pressure that occur in an online or physical bookstore, but for the first time it allows us to judge—in a reasonably objective way—how readers’ expectations are shaped by the cover, if one cover might be a better fit for a book, and to what extent a cover might shape a book’s future success.
Link to the rest at Digital Book World
PG will note that, outside of the publishing world, A/B testing of advertising and promotion materials has been happening approximately forever. For example, A/B testing was common during the days of Mad Men.