Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Book Browsing

Here's How Amazon Self-Destructs at Salon inspired a little discussion on my personal Facebook wall recently.

Will Amazon's Book Business Fall Apart When Bookstores Are Gone?


Author Evan Hughes says, "According to survey research by the Codex Group, roughly 60 percent of book sales — print and digital — now occur online. But buyers first discover their books online only about 17 percent of the time. Internet booksellers specifically, including Amazon, account for just 6 percent of discoveries. Where do readers learn about the titles they end up adding to the cart on Amazon? In many cases, at bookstores."

Hughes contends that book buyers engage in "showrooming"--using bookstores as showrooms where they browse, then go home and buy their books through Amazon where they can get discounts. As more and more traditional bookstores fold, and there's plenty of talk about Barnes & Noble being part of that more and more, readers will have no place to browse. Without a place to browse, how can they buy at Amazon? Thus, Amazon's success at destroying the competition could actually hurt it in the long run, at least as far as book sales are concerned.

But How Many People Browse In Bookstores These Days?


I was particularly interested in this article because my NESCBWI Conference roommate (Erin Dionne--she has a new book out. Just saying.) discussed browsing in bookstores during our late night roomie talk. We both agreed. We do not browse in bookstores anymore. We go in for something specific, and then we leave. Bookstores are no longer destinations for us. We aren't stumbling upon new books there. Why not?

  • Time is an issue, of course. How many adults really recreationally shop anymore?
  • The uniformity of the big box bookstores has become an issue for me. I thought I'd died and gone to heaven when the first Borders opened up in my area, because we didn't have any bookstores around here. But over the years it became clear that every Borders was like every other Borders and every Borders was like every Barnes & Noble, too. If I'd been into any of those stores in the last month, maybe even longer, I really didn't need to go into another, as far as browsing and discovering new things were concerned. It wasn't going to happen.
  • Another issue for me with Barnes & Noble is that it prominently displays this season's big books and last season's big sellers. The books I'm going to run into easily there are the books I've heard about on-line, in magazines, and on NPR. Again, nothing new to discover.

So Where Are People Browsing For Books? 


Two interesting areas for book browsing came out of our Facebook discussion:
  • Libraries--One person pointed out that the cost of new books is high enough that she can't impulse buy, so she doesn't browse in stores. She, and other people, talked about using libraries.
  • Used bookstores/sales--People also talked about browsing in used bookstores.
Since I happen to use libraries, library book sales, and a used bookstore, I understand how and why this is happening. Real, old-fashioned book browsing, of the sort where you end up going home with something you hadn't expected and maybe hadn't even heard of, can happen in libraries and with used books because it's in these situations readers can take chances. It's at libraries and used book sales that readers can discover new writers because the financial risk is low at those places. The likelihood of buyer remorse, such as I feel over that new, sixteen dollar book I bought on Buddhism for regular folk that is pure torture, isn't that great.

Amazon may have nothing to fear from the loss of browsers in traditional bookstores because if my small group discussion is any indication, that's already gone.


Charlotte said...

I find I am much much much more likely to browse at used book stores and libraries than in new book stores, simply because I'm so familiar with the new books that I'm not likely to make a new exciting discovery. I go to the new book stores with high hopes...but mostly don't end up with books I hadn't already been wanting. Library booksales, though, do serious damage to the amount of space I have on hand for tbr piles...for fifty cents, it's easy to take a chance on a book...

Gail Gauthier said...

Cost is definitely an issue in terms of taking a chance and discovering something new. But bookstores that flock to the same titles everyone else is promoting, thinking that's where the sales are...not only are they limiting discovery, it sounds as if they're actually discouraging readers from even looking.

Yes, library book sales are responsible for bringing a lot of stuff into my house, too. My Kindle is "heavy" with sale items, as well. Those two places are where I am really spreading out in terms of reading.