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Readerly-Writerly Thoughts

Books were going to die because the kids had no appreciation for stories.  For them, reading required too much effort when compared to movies and video games.  The threat increased when movies could be viewed at home, even more so when game consoles and joysticks resided in the living room.  Besides, people weren't going to the mall so much anymore.  How could people make their book purchases if they didn't go to the mall?

That's the fear outlined in a NY Times story from 1991 which outlined the busting of "publishing myths" that resulted from falling sales.  (The article concludes with: " Another publisher, who insisted on anonymity, said, "The biggest myth of all survives: that we know what we are doing.")

Then, between the late 80s and the early 90s, the percentage of folks who reported reading for leisure went from 36% to 49%.  By 1992, book sales were on the increase and were expected to "lead the retail industry" for the first half of the decade.  Barnes and Noble had arrived, changing the way most folks found and purchased their reading material.  It matched the book-browsing experience with the social and cultural components people found pleasant and comforting.  It made people want to go to the bookstore for the experience as well as the books--the relaxing atmosphere, the inviting chairs, the sense of community and, I think, indulgence.  People liked that it felt like a library without the shush-ing.  They liked the notion they could spend lots of time comfortably choosing to make a purchase.  And yes, they liked bestsellers at deep discounts.

There were consequences to liking and indulging in those things.  Smaller stores that offered only shelves of books weren't as popular.  Stores with full-priced books didn't sell as many.  Core patrons stayed with their favorite smaller stores.  Other book purchasers did not.  But what is lost in the discussions of independent bookstore loss is the an increase in book sales that came with the growth of B&N.  B&N didn't simply take over an existing consumer base; they added to it.

Now, B&N claims it sells three times as many ebooks online as physical books.  Three.  Times.  I haven't a clue what Amazon's numbers are.  Throughout the industry, though, physical book sales are off by something like 15%.  Ebooks sales are growing.  And I know there are many more readers like me--buying more books now than in previous years because I have easy access to not only the purchase them, but browse through them at my leisure.

I live in a rural county.  There is a small bookstore that carries books of interest to the local reading group, to young children, and local authors.  They are nice people, but their store experience isn't what most buyers are seeking.  Our nearest large-appeal bookstore is about 35 miles away--nearly an hour of combined back roads and highway driving, and up to ten or twelve dollars in gas consumption.  Purchasing a book requires an investment of time and treasure before the actual purchase is even made.  And if browsing time is needed to find just the right book, the investment is even greater.  Those bookstore trips are treats, not habits.  Treat-spending is rare.

A relatively small investment was made when I purchased my ereader--about the same as two large hardcover novels at list price, or a bit over a tank of gas.  Now I can browse by almost ridiculously narrow parameters (award-winning children's works published in 2009 that have a 3-star customer rating, sorted by highest to lowest price), or broad categories (fiction).  This means I buy more books.  My fellow rural-county residents are buying more books.  Again, we are not today spending our "book money" at a different place than yesterday.  We are allocating "book money" we hadn't allocated before.  We are increasing the number of units sold.

Why?  Because the experience of buying ebooks matches what we want.  It gives us access and simplicity we didn't have before.  This is good news for people who write stories.  More people are becoming (or re-becoming) regular readers, and regular readers are buying more books. 

And, as a writer, I think that's pretty damn promising.

In other news, expected emails shall be completed tonight!

And in other other news, yesterday's karate tournament went well.  It was big and crazy and loud, but my students were awesome (no first places, but three second places) and the company couldn't have been better.  This year, I can get away without competing.  I don't think I'll get away with it next season.  I'm not certain if I'm daunted or excited at the prospect.



( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 25th, 2012 08:19 pm (UTC)
What e-reader do you have? (and what do you like about it as a device, if you don't mind talking about it for a minute?)

I am all for e-books as an option, but haven't made the transition yet. And since I've never really found a "good" bookstore locally, I probably don't feel as bad as I might about doing my browsing through the internet and my library system, and buying things online.

Edited at 2012-03-25 08:20 pm (UTC)
Mar. 26th, 2012 02:45 am (UTC)
I have a Kindle--just the basic model, not the Fire. I like that it's easy on the eyes, and I can read in bright light. I get headaches reading on a computer screen in low lighting, and wanted something I could take outside for reading. The battery charge is supposed to last something like 16 hours, but I'm pretty sure I've gone longer than that.

I've found the Amazon interface extremely easy to use. Too easy, in fact, considering how quickly I make decisions to purchase books. ;-) Browsing is awesome since I can narrow or broaden my search at will and download all the free samples I wish. Kindle allows me to sort and store my books by folders I create and name, so things are easy to find. And I can stop reading whenever I wish, in multiple books, and Kindle will bookmark my place for me. With a fingertap, I'm taken to the right page.

I don't have to choose which books to take with me when I travel. That's a huge plus for me when I'm flying. I don't fly well, so reading is a needed distraction. The times I've ended up on a flight with a lousy book were not pleasant. Unfortunately, since it is an electronic device, it must be turned off for take off and landings.

I'm looking into a couple of reference texts I can download to give me immediate access to certain topics for work. That way I don't need internet access to look up stuff like contraindications and interactions for supplements and herbs.

I do need to buy a cover for it, which will cut down on the times I accidentally turn pages when I forget to turn it off before putting it in my purse.

But it does take a little getting used to. My transition was probably easier because I _wanted_ the access an ereader provided and was willing to roll with the different reading experience. My last few college classes helped, actually, since most of my required texts were .pdf. I much prefer Kindle to reading off the computer.

Does that help? If you can, borrow devices from friends so you can try the experience before buying.

My childhood bookstore was nothing more interesting than Waldenbooks. Most of my self-chosen reading material came from the library (I spent one summer reading every single book in the "true ghost stories" section), church rummage sales, or my parents' library. Later, I bought from B&N when I had the funds for new books and from used bookstores when I didn't.

Interestingly, most of the used and combo new/used bookstores I frequented twenty-five to thirty years ago are still in business--minus the Earthling in Santa Barbara, alas. They've done so by adapting to their customer base and playing to their unique flavor.
Mar. 27th, 2012 02:20 am (UTC)

I'm still reluctant, in that "but I like print books!" sort of way, but I'm also getting very much fed up with doing the PDF reading assignments for the Master Naturalist class on my laptop. Something I could take with me wherever and read in little bits would make this much less painful.

The .pdf texts you speak of-- were they mainly designed for 8-1/2x11 sizing? How well did that adapt, in terms of screen size/shape & legibility?
Mar. 27th, 2012 01:32 pm (UTC)
I like print books, too, and still purchase them. I just purchase fewer, usually ones I know I'll want to keep and re-read. OTOH, I love Stephen King books, but hate trying to hold up one of those hard-cover tomes when reading in bed. With Kindle, even the largest books weigh the same little bit.

I didn't transfer the .pdf files to my Kindle; I'd already finished my studies. I have some vague notion you'd need to convert the .pdf to Kindle's format, but am still learning how that works.
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 27th, 2012 01:27 pm (UTC)
I love it, too, though I didn't think I would when ereaders first came out. I read things on a computer screen because I must, not because I like the experience. It wasn't until I understood the screen differences that I considered the devices a viable option.

( 5 comments — Leave a comment )


Blair MacGregor

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