Friday, March 25, 2011

Book Buying Patterns (or Where are the Books I Want?)

After I posted last week about getting into Parks and Recreation (the TV series), it looks like I'm not alone in liking the "niceness" of it. I found this article about how refreshing the "niceness" is. It's not treacly nice, just people I wouldn't mind knowing in real life. And was I the only one sobbing at the end of The Office? They totally got me. I'm not sure about the new boss they announced (and I'm surprised by the fact that I haven't heard any mention of that online yet -- was I the only one who saw that promo?).

Anyway, that talk of how refreshing nice can be, combined with thinking about that Publisher's Weekly survey on book purchasing I posted yesterday, along with the general discussion/debate about the role of publishers and what authors can do, thanks to the Digital Revolution, has got all kinds of thoughts and theories swirling around in my brain.

One thing I'm realizing is that for me, at least, the major publishers are Doing it Wrong -- and I'm talking about me as a reader, not as a writer. I don't know if it's trend chasing, doom-loop thinking, making decisions based purely on numbers, groupthink from a narrow demographic, or what, but I'm not getting what I want out of the major publishers these days. When answering that survey, I found that I'd bought six SF/F books last year (not counting books by Terry Pratchett -- with as much re-reading as I do, and with my mom and me pooling our collection and frequently swapping, I can't really tell what I bought, when). The Borders where I usually shop is one of the ones being closed, and I haven't bothered to go up there to hit the going-out-of-business sale because I couldn't think of anything I desperately wanted to buy. I have a Visa gift card from a rebate that I need to use and am planning to do a big Amazon order, but it will all be DVDs and music, not books, because there isn't a book I want to buy right now.

And yet, I'm a voracious reader. I read more than a hundred books a year. Why am I not buying books? One reason is that the library is more convenient for me than any bookstore, since the library is a couple of blocks from my house, and I can go online and reserve any book I want from within the system and then pick it up at my neighborhood branch. I have to get in a car to buy a book (or wait for Amazon to deliver it). Since my bookshelves runneth over, if I can get a book from the library, I will. My book purchases tend to be either things that just aren't available from the library (mostly mass-market paperback originals) or that I've read from the library, loved, and want a keeper copy for re-reading when it comes out in paperback. Book prices also have something to do with it. The mass-market format is priced in the $8 range these days, so even that's not so much a impulse purchase of the "hmmm, this could be interesting, I'll give it a shot" variety. And then that format is dying out, with more stuff coming out in trade paperback. That's even less of a "what the heck, I'll give it a shot" purchase. That's why I get most of my books from the library for either trying out a new author, reading the hardcover before the paperback becomes available, or for reading something I know I'll have no desire to own (like a lot of the books I read to see what's happening in the market).

But it's not just a price/practicality thing. Even when I go to the bookstore, I have a hard time finding things that suit me. I may not have a current "favorite" TV series, but I do think current TV has more things that are to my taste than current publishing does. The USA originals and the channel formerly known as Sci Fi's summer line-up are right up my alley -- fun and quirky, characters I like, not too dark but still able to deal with some serious stuff. And, I guess, edited for television, without a lot of nudity, profanity, graphic sex or violence. It's hard to find books like that. I used to read a lot of romance but now mostly read Georgette Heyer to get my romance fix since romance today seems to be going for super-hot (which means that they seem to be leaving out all other aspects of relationship development -- if they have fun in bed, that seems to be all that matters). Fantasy seems to be trying to out-dark itself, with "gritty" being the key word -- with a few exceptions that I do rush out to buy. I can't take the sexy monsters or the "we're all going to die of global warming and reality television" dystopias. I love the idea of steampunk, since I've always been a big fan of Victoriana, but I haven't yet found the book that fully lives up to the promise of what I think the genre can be -- aside from those written by Jules Verne.

Of those six books I bought last year, one was a keeper copy of a book I read in hardcover from the library after its initial release. One was something I was reading for market research purposes that the library didn't have and that I now wish I hadn't spent money on (it sounded good, or I wouldn't have bought it, but ended up being kind of icky). One was the latest book in a series I've been enjoying. Three were a new series, where I bought the first one, liked it, then bought the next two when they came out. There is a possibility that I bought more books that I haven't read yet, since I'm going off my reading list.

So, add up the high prices and the lack of availability of what I want, and I won't be buying a lot of books. There are still tons of older books I haven't read, so I won't run out of reading material. I can see where this could also be what leads to that e-publishing revolution. A $2.99 e-book brings you back into the realm of impulse purchases where you're willing to try a new author. It used to be that the publishers served as some kind of guarantee of quality, but if they become gatekeepers to keep out anything outside their narrow range of interest, then you might find more variety outside their gates. They're so timid these days about purchasing decisions that it may reach a point where they use the self-published market as the "farm team," and then only publish the authors who have been extremely successful on their own. It may be the need for something new to read that eventually drives me to buy an e-reader, since the stuff I might like probably won't be published in print.

Now, my question of the day for my legion of minions/adoring readers/people who stumbled upon my blog/people who are very bored and procrastinating: What are you looking for in books that you aren't finding at the moment? Do you have some reading need that isn't being served?

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