Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Reading and Book Buying Habits of Americans

A while back I came across this survey of "The Reading and Book Buying Habits of Americans (note link is to a PDF of the complete report). The report is 13 pages, but it is mostly short questions with answers in terms of numbers, so rather easy to read. Some of the questions seemed amusing to me. So, allow me to look at the survey, put some snark into it, and while at it, take a chance to look at myself as a reader and book buyer. OK, those were fancy words for "I am commenting on the survey in a somewhat random fashion."

First, there was the whole question about "American Dream Materialists" versus the "American Dream Spiritualists." I actually had to keep reading to find the definitions, but basically these are people who believe that material goods lead to the American Dream versus those who see it in more spiritual terms. They both believe it is possible to attain the dream. Given the current state of the nation, I initially reacted with a "what are those people smoking?" remark. Maybe I am a pessimist, or more likely a cynic, but unless some serious radical changes happen soon, that dream is nothing but a pipedream. However, I am digressing. The survey points out that American Dream Materialists are more likely to buy their books in hardcover. Me? I buy hardcover when it is on sale or remaindered. Otherwise, it's paperback because I need to save some money for one, plus my apartment is small, and it is easier to stack paperbacks than big hardcovers. Having said that, there are rare authors I like enough to pay the full 28 bucks or more for their books, but those are very rare. Plus I borrow as much as I can for books I want to read but not keep. But the survey has more on that, so let's move on.

80% of the respondents said they do not plan on buying any special e-book reader. Only reason that factoid caught my eye is because my boss has a Kindle, and she pretty much swears by it. I am sure this number is not encouraging for people like her. Me? I am one of the 80%. Not planning on spending the money on a device any time soon. I like my books in print just fine. But that is what works for me. I have tried reading e-books, and I just find the way they work does not go with how I read.

And then the survey also covers politics. For example, did you know that Democrats (50%) are more likely than Republicans or Independents to visit and linger in one of those bookstores with a "community center" feel to it (their terms). In other words, think of a nice Barnes & Noble or Borders. I did notice Republicans do not seem to "fare as well" in questions like these. For example, Republicans (26%) are also less likely to shop at independent bookstores. And Republicans are more likely (32%) to agree that hearing about a book on talk radio makes them want to buy it. So, if we want to take this very literal: if Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity tell them to read a book, the Republicans are very likely to go out and buy it on their say so. Actually, the question is about buying a book. Whether they read the book once they buy it is a separate question the survey does not address; the survey does ask about books that you buy but do not get around to reading. However, it does not break down that question by political party. I wonder why. I could go on with the joking, but I will stop while I am ahead. I did find amusing the survey took the time to find this out.

And talking about buying books, they do ask how many do people buy in a year that they never get around to reading. 53% of respondents admitted 1 to 5 books purchased that they never got around to read. I was a bit surprised people are actually willing to admit that. Personally, I never keep track, but I know I probably fall in the 6 to 11 mark, give or take. Oh, I get to them eventually, but it may take me a while. That is part of the reason I buy books on the cheap. I am not a fast reader, so buying bestsellers and new books right away does not work for me. I read at my own pace, when I feel like it. I do like having some choices at home, so when I go to buy books I often stock up. This is specially applicable here in Tyler where selections can be very limited. So, when I go out of town to a decent bookstore, I stock up for the lean times in town. In the end, I have a big "to be read" pile, and I am at peace with that fact.

The survey asks how often do you typically read a book. Most respondents (68%) say once. That is probably about right. Most people probably read something once unless it is something very good. For me, there are so many books and so little time, that I don't reread unless the book is very good, a favorite, and I am in the mood for something familiar. There are some titles I do reread now and then, but overall, I am probably like that 68%. And when I am done with them, it depends. If the book was really good, I keep it (and I keep the hope I may reread it). If it was bad (and I bought it), I will likely resell it when I get a chance. I used to do Bookcrossing, but after a while, it did not seem efficient, and I can at least get a few bucks when I resell something (these days you have to count your pennies). This is why I borrow a lot of books from the library when I can: there are too many books that only deserve a single reading. Those I try to borrow. Often, if I borrow one that turns out to be really good, I will try to buy it for myself. However, these days, I am trying to limit my purchases. Not just the economy (I am a librarian after all), but also the space issue at home.

Now, how about what makes you buy a book? Well, for me it depends. It could be a review. It could be I heard of it from a friend or colleague, or John Stewart highlighted it on The Daily Show or Colbert from The Colbert Report. Those were options in the survey (except for Colbert), and most people said they follow suggestions from friends and family. For me, book reviews are good depending on where the review comes from. I am more likely to consider a review from a librarian blogger or other blogger that I know has a decent reputation, or is an avid reader with good sense. Yes, those things may be exclusive: a blogger may have a good reputation (say a librarian that blogs about librarianship and is prominent), but be a lousy book recommender. On the other hand, some avid readers are nowhere near the librarian blogger A-list, but they read cool stuff.

In terms of finding ideas for reading, I have found Stewart and Colbert often feature some interesting writers. True, a lot of their choices are political authors, but once in a while they pick some unique books. For example, Jack Cafferty's book that I recently read, It's Getting Ugly Out There, was a Daily Show pick. I will be blunt now: I don't care for Oprah's picks. If it works for you, good, but self-help and improvement themes are not my thing. Morning shows? Well, I am usually at work by the time those come around, and they seem pretty similar to what Oprah might pick. As for TV news, when was the last time you saw a book discussed on TV news? Overall, I look at a lot of sources to get reading ideas, and a lot of those are online sources. We are talking here about my personal reading. I don't really do collection development anymore, but I still look at the professional journals in my liaison areas just to see what is out there; I am just not doing it as much since there is no real need.

Oh, and how many of you go to the bookstore knowing exactly what you want? The survey asked that, and found that only 38% fit that criterion. Oh, and 77% of respondents admitted making additional book purchases besides the one they planned. Does that sound familiar? To me it does. I have been known to go in and come out with an extra book or two. It's part of the experience. Go in to get your new Paulo Coehlo book, and you come out with the Coehlo along with a couple of mangas, a nice steampunk anthology, and a graphic novel. Just saying.

Moving along, this was a question that really made me think: "when thinking about most of the books you read, do you borrow books from the library, or do you own them?" 78% of respondents said they owned them. Right away, the question made me wonder what does that say about our libraries. Well, in my case, it would probably say that the selection in the town library are pretty much poor. I do borrow a lot of my books, but lately, I do so via my library's interlibrary loan service. They are often items I know our public library would not be caught dead having (say that Hellraiser comic anthology I just finished for example. WorldCat record. By the way, I got that via ILL.) and my own library would probably not buy (see the previous example). But putting my own example aside, the question I had was this: do people really prefer owning the books, or is it a matter that owning the book is more convenient? Going back to my experience, I often get students at the reference desk looking for a particular book. If we don't have it, I suggest ILL, but to many of them, if they think they can get it via B&N or Amazon in a quicker way (and cheap, at least in their eyes), that is what they will do. Sure, ILL is usually free, but you have to fill the form and wait for the book to arrive. If it's a common book, driving to B&N is simply easier to them. So I wonder about that. Personally, when it comes to things like graphic novels and manga (especially manga), I know I often have to buy them. So, since it is my money on the line, I am very selective on what I buy. I will note on the positive that I can get an awful lot on ILL, if I am willing to wait. The wait may be a bit longer given some books often come from out of state (and I am not commenting on why that might be). Since I never feel a need to rush in reading, I can usually order something on ILL and wait for it. But overall, the survey question is one I think libraries should really consider. If most people are willing to own the book, regardless of reason, why is that? And how can libraries address that? Sounds like a question to ponder later.

The final question I am going to write snark about is the one about what first draws you to a book when browsing a bookstore? My answer was the bargain bin, which for some reason was not a choice in the survey apparently. Actually, joking aside, I usually read the jacket, then a few pages of the book to see if it draws me in or not. I may look at the cover, but I also look at authors, editors and publishers. For example, if it is a good anthology of science fiction edited by someone I know is a good editor, you can be assured I will likely buy it on that basis. What draws me to a book varies, and it really depends on the subject or book type. I don't think they caught that very well in the survey. Plus, for me, serendipity often works too in finding new things I may want to read. In other words, I often use different criteria in selecting. Imagine that.

So, there you have it folks. Go take a look, see if you learn a thing or two about your own reading habits while you are it.

A hat tip to Stephen's Lighthouse.

1 comment:

aart hilal said...

I’m a big fan of Paulo Coelho! You will love this! He’s the first best-selling author to be distributing for free his works on his blog:
http://www.paulocoelhoblog.com

Have a nice day!

Aart