Tuesday, June 12, 2007

how do you buy your books?

Some curious and important questions for all readers, in response to a posting of Angelle's. I hope anyone who reads this will respond with their thoughts.

Angelle indicates that she has no use for book reviews, which she feels often ruin the book for her beforehand. This is a hot debate, in an age where the book review is dying (cf the Atlanta Journal-Constitution hullabaloo) and the book industry is searching for both ways to reach an audience and ways to measure its own achievements.

Everyone, even Angelle, is entitled to their own opinion about book reviews. However, this news can't help but be distressing to an editor. We rely on an admittedly archaic newspaper and magazine review system for the review sound bites that we paste onto the front covers of books. These reviews aren't really that important for reaching out to consumers, although in theory at least one or two people probably buy a book because a beloved author or a favorite newspaper of theirs has blurbed it.

(I, for example, bought Leila Aboulela's THE TRANSLATOR because of the Coetzee quote on the front cover, although this doesn't directly relate to our review discussion, does it.)

But reviews are important because they show the Buyers--that is, the Barnes & Noble Buyers (with a capital B in my head) who stock the shelves of the chains across the country--that a book is worthwhile and recognized and thereby deserves shelf space.

The complicating factor--book reviews (like the Journal-Constitution) don't exist for the sake of the book industry--we merely profit from them and base our selling mechanisms off of them. They exist to cater to a consumer audience--Angelle, for example--and when that consumer audience isn't interested, they go out of buisness or close down.

So now publishers need to find other yardsticks that will help us reach out to Buyers. Of course, the hot topic is the internet--how do we get word out in cyberspace? And, more frustratingly, how do we measure those results? Or are there even other standards of rating books and other ways of buzzing about them that reach readers even more directly? Perhaps we can cut out the evil Buyer altogether!

This week, PW ran an article about what women are looking for in their book choices. One interesting point is that most women buy most books based on recommendations from family or friends. (There are other, more painful, point in the article--for example, 43% of women would like to write a book. Dear lord let me have my own assistant before they all start sending in their manuscripts.)

So my question for you----how do you buy your books? (Please check all that apply, and if you like, rate from Most Often to Least Often, or whatever.)

1) Book reviews
2) Media specials (eg mentions on Oprah or NPR)
3) Recommendations from friends
4) Bookstore browsing (and if so--how much of your decision is based on the cover? Do you read the flap copy, or try to avoid it?)
5) Amazon surfing (and if so, do you surf by subject? Or do you tend to click through based on what Amazon recommends?)
6) I seek out new books by authors I've liked in the past
7) I seek out books on a particular subject and buy books that specifically address that subject

Thanks for your feedback here.


angelle said...

I'd say all of the above for how I buy books. I tend to be very picky about buying "new releases" by unknown authors though. Though I do love browsing through all the books on that section of the store (it's the most exciting area, of course), but I'm REALLY picky. I DO read the dust jacket, but for me to pick up that dust jacket requires a cover that grabs my attention. A good graphic designer I believe, is a MUST. Someone who can put into visual aesthetics what the heart of your book is about, that will grab your target consumer. I 100% believe that for unknown new authors with books that haven't recieved that much hype. Before History of Love was anywhere on the radar except on the new releases shelf (I have a first edition copy with no "bestseller" claim on top), I picked it up because #1 - interesting title #2 - the sparse yet dusty nostalgic look of her cover. I never would have picked up Kite Runner bc of its cover, had it not been for recommendation. Recommendations are huge too, though I trust only people with similar tastes to mine.

I do think that reviews are important and necessary (what do you mean, everyone, EVEN me?!?!?!), I just don't want my reading experienced to be pre-empted by a review with spoilers. I'm not too pleased with the recent Khaled Hosseini reviews because it gave away too much plot, even if it is just general. Bad choice of me to read.

This is an interesting marketing/publicity question though. Reminds me also, of that recent panel on reviewers vs bloggers. I think blogs hold more and more weight these days in any industry for any consumer. People trust "real" people like them, and now everyone's opinions hang in the open. Of course, we still like when we pick up a book and it's got all these rave reviews from so-and-so from the New Yorker or so-and-so famous author, but that's only if you're in-the-know (*ahem* book snobby) enough that this carries weight. Otherwise, you're going to care more that someone like you tells you it's good. The marketing model is going to have to change (and so I hear it has been, a little - with youtube trailers for books and all), and as consumers realize more and more that they don't need to rely on the hoity-toity as their only source of information, because there's so much out there on the web, the reviews are going to hold less weight for the masses. it's inevitable. so what then? i don't know. as a publicist (granted, in a diff field, but still, somethings are industry-wide concerns), it's hard to work within a world now where consumers can get their own information without turning to the "professionals" all the time - people who they might not actually feel like they relate to enough. so what if mr. high-and-mighty with a phd in literature thinks this is the best work of the 21st century? how is he like ME, ms. ho-hum middle class cube rat? not that that's what i think, but that's the quandary.

i have no solution for this (though i'd love to brainstorm the solution). the world of marketing is changing. and honestly, publicity coverted to sales is always difficult to measure. with the whole world open to consumers now, there is almost NO easy way to measure it. what it all comes down to is buzzbuzzbuzz. we know that... it's just about how to create it. and reviews, i think, while helpful for some people still, i think are not the way to go about it anymore... they're totally becoming obselete because the majority of consumers DON'T read reviews, and even to me, reviews are more of an intellectual exercise more than anything. that's why i read them AFTER i read a book. it's almost like reading a scholarly paper, but not. (that's why blurbs in mags work better... not your high brow reviews, but a quick nitty gritty - "you'll love how the heroine meanders through martinis searching for love in a quirky bla bla bla" - basically jacket copy + some editorial opinion. that's all that people have patience for, and that's all i really want or need to know as a consumer anyway)

as a publicist, i think that's the hard truth. as a person who hopes one day to sell a novel or two, this blows, because the market is too competitive and faced with four floors at barnes, i don't know how i'll ever measure up (assuming i make it through all the hoops that come before that too! eek!)

long post. sorry.

moonrat said...

It is interesting how much of a lot of reviews are just jacket copy, cribbed. I've noticed this on reviews of my books--sometimes, the whole review is just what I've already said about it. It's a little bit of a bummer.

space alien said...

On one of your last posts [which I can't find] about how your publisher, Robert, told you that you didn't have as much experience as he thought when you were hired. He probably already forgot... or thinks he said that to someone else.

And I'd like to point out that Malaysia, Yemen, Venezuela, and Hong Kong are all small countries with large players in your readership pie chart! haha Congrats. I love them. Sadly, the Danes must be lost in the "unknown."

New York! New York! New York!
I wish I was coming this weekend con voi papa. :(

angelle said...

oh one more thing. it makes me sad that they're cutting book review jobs, really. only because i love books and even though i don't read book reviews, doesn't mean that it shouldn't be important enough to keep in an arts section, because where else will "books" be featured if not in a book review section? i get sad when the new york mag "the word" section is woefully short. so i'm all for reviews. i just don't read them if they're about a book i actually really want to read. or i'll skim it or just read the first paragraph.

Aparna said...

i don't want book reviewers to lose their job because i think good book reviews are an art in themselves, however, i base most of my book choices off of the jacket/back cover summary, the cover (visuals helps in many cases), the font, and a few paragraphs randomly selected from the bowels of the book. i'm not saying my way is foolproof or right, but it is how i have generally done things. sometimes however, i will pick up a book review and say "oh this is something i should read." but sometimes the overwhelmingly stark criticism tears my heart into tiny pieces.

jalexissmith said...

6) I seek out new books by authors I've liked in the past
3) Recommendations from friends
2) Media specials (eg mentions on Oprah or NPR)
7) I seek out books on a particular subject and buy books that specifically address that subject
4) Bookstore browsing (and if so--how much of your decision is based on the cover? Do you read the flap copy, or try to avoid it?)
5) Amazon surfing (and if so, do you surf by subject? Or do you tend to click through based on what Amazon recommends?)
1) Book reviews

In that order.

Sorry, I do not read book reviews. I take recommendations because I feel like the people that are recommending the books to me have some idea of what I will like and won't like.

But right now I just take what I can get as English books just tend to get passed from one person to another.

Ari said...

Sometimes, I watch movies after reading a review, and other times I watch movies without reading any reviews. To me, books and book reviews operate in the same manner.

Since most of my pleasure reading consists of novels, it's more important if I can get through the first few pages and like the subject and/or author than if a review is glowing.

Tory said...

I think it's a little of everything. I will always buy a new book written by a fave author, and love a recommended book. That is how I came across, 'The Purpose Driven Life.' I always read the flaps of the book and in doing that, I will often find something that sounds interesting to me. I don't know if I've ever actually read a book review though. Where would one find a book review?