Friday, June 03, 2011

Book Greed

I am currently NOT at my local library's annual Friends of the Library used book sale. I kind of had to hide my car keys from myself, and I took a walk to the neighborhood library to check out books as a diversion. This is because I realized that I currently own so many books that I don't have room to shelve any new purchases, and I don't have anywhere to put additional bookcases (my next house will have actual walls instead of such an open floorplan and so many windows). I hit last year's book sale almost as soon as it opened, since I'd just started physical therapy on my bad shoulder and had an early morning appointment, so I was out anyway. And I realized that most of the books I bought at last year's sale are still in the bag I brought them home in. At my average yearly reading rate, I could go two or more years just reading books I already own but haven't read, without bringing any additional books into the house.

I seem to have a condition I've dubbed "book greed." I suppose it's akin to hoarding and could easily be a part of an overall hoarding condition. When books are readily available and not very expensive, I have a tendency to go nuts. This happens at the library, where I want to check out every book I see that appeals to me, even though I know I can't possibly read them all before the due date. I have to restrain myself and remind myself that the books will still be there later, and I can get them on the next trip (though at my library, you kind of do have to grab them when you find them because the next person may keep them half a year or never return them at all, and the book you want won't be available the next time). It's also bad at the library book sale, where I'm willing to spend 75 cents on a random paperback just because it looks interesting and, hey, it's making a donation to the library, so it's a good cause. I've learned to tone down the book greed at writing conferences, but at my first RWA conference, the idea that they were passing out FREE BOOKS went to my head, and I waited in all the publisher giveaway booksigning lines.

Mind you, I STILL haven't read some of those books from that first conference I went to in 1993. And that brings me to another, related point -- how we value books. On the rare occasions when I buy new books, I tend to read them fairly quickly, except in a few cases where I bought the book because I went to a booksigning and wanted the book autographed but wasn't really amped up to read that particular book right away. That's because new books are pretty expensive, so I don't buy a book unless I want to read that book so badly that I must buy it NOW. I don't buy a lot of books at used bookstores, especially after I sold some books and saw what a huge profit margin they have on each book, and yet nobody who participated in the creation of the book gets anything. But when something's out of print, I'll turn there, and I'm pretty good about reading those books, since even at half price, a book is still pretty expensive these days and a purchase is a conscious decision. I almost always read the books I get from the library, unless I start reading and decide I don't want to waste time on that book, because I know there's a time limit.

It's the books that I get for free or for next to nothing that seldom get read. I think that part of it is that for free or very cheap I'm willing to pick up things I'd never pay full price for, and so they fall to the bottom of the priority list, under the things I choose more consciously. I also don't feel like there's any great loss or waste if I never get around to reading something I didn't pay for or only paid a few cents for. The e-book revolution is bringing up the issue of pricing, and while a lot of people moved to the top of the e-book bestseller lists and built a following by selling their books for 99 cents, some authors are starting to see more sales from pricing their books slightly higher, but still below the cost of a paper book. You may make a lot of sales at 99 cents, but those books are likely to languish unread if people just get a case of book greed and grab them because they're cheap, so you're not really gaining new readers. If people aren't getting around to reading the book they got for next to nothing, then they're not buying your next book and they're not spreading word of mouth. If the book is expensive enough that it's a conscious, deliberate purchase and not a whim, but still cheap enough to not be a barrier to purchase, then readers may be more likely to value the book enough to read it and then talk about it and then be set to buy the next book. The 99 cent price point may be suitable for novellas or short stories, but for a novel it may be the equivalent of the paperback you buy on a whim at the library book sale and never get around to reading.

On the other hand, I have found some new authors to follow from books I got at conferences or that I picked up on the cheap. These are generally books I might have eventually tried at full price, but getting them free or cheap made me more willing to take a chance and try them or brought them to my attention. However, I still seem to only get around to them years later. I picked up my first Connie Willis book at a "half of a half" sale when I got a case of book greed and was just grabbing anything that remotely appealed to me, and I think it languished for a couple of years before I got around to reading it and then subsequently have bought her books new.


Lola said...

I'm totally in the same boat, with tons of books I've bought but haven't read. Especially since I used to work at one of those used book stores and had a discount. Eek. Maybe they should have a What Not to Read show for people like us. Because your post reminded me of something Stacey or Clinton said on that show about clothes. That if you wouldn't pay for it full price, then you shouldn't buy it on sale either. Maybe thinking about books that way would help me say no when I'm in a book store. Lol!

Angie said...

You make an excellent point. I have downloaded some free e-books and never read them because I only got them since they were free. If I had to pay for them, I would've chosen only a few books I really wanted and made it a priority to read them.