The Predictions Were True: Why I’m Now Buying (And Reading) More Books Than Ever

by @thewritermama on January 20, 2011 · 17 comments

For the past few years, I’ve been hearing an awful lot of predictions about how my reading habits were going to be transformed — yada-yada — and how I would soon be reading more in more formats via more delivery systems than I could possibly imagine.

I didn’t exactly scoff, but like many people, I clutched my beloved paper and paste books and glossy magazines closer to my pounding heart. How dare technology threaten my love affair with print! I vowed I’d never let that happen.

And then it did, anyway.

As it turns out, expanded methods of reading are really not so bad. Except for trying to keep track of all of the dribs and drabs that I like to save for research purposes, which at this point, I can’t imagine ever mastering.

But I digress. Let me count the ways I am now consuming words:

Online: I read online, off and on, all day long. What am I reading? Facebook posts, tweets, blog posts, news, and articles mostly. For example, today I read a really well-written, four-month-old, article from The New Yorker about Mark Zuckerberg.

Print magazines: A few weeks ago, I was reading another article in Time about Mark Zuckerberg out loud to my husband as we drove the last leg of a road trip from Colorado to Oregon. It was in the antiquated paper and ink format, which I confess I still love and refuse to let go of (but keep in mind that I don’t own an iPad yet). My number of subscription publications are down to only trade publications. However, I probably bought more magazines on the stands than ever (because of not subscribing as much) and I read quite a bit of magazines at the library.

iPhone: Another handy reading device for the car is the iPhone. I’ve had mine for just over a year now and though I don’t tend to read on it for any length of time, it’s great for catching bits of news, celebrity gossip, and checking e-mail (not to mention scheduling play dates and helping me remember dentist appointments).

Kindle: A friend sent me a Kindle for my birthday and I’m glad because I probably would have held out for the iPad (in fact, I am still holding out for it). However, there is no way to deny that the Kindle is a revolutionary reading device.

For example, I think of a book I have always wanted and moments later, I am downloading a free sample chapter of it to test-read. Guess how often this converts into a purchase? Just guess. Did you guess yet? That’s right. Almost every time, assuming it was a book I have been wanting for a long time and it is now cheaper and more accessible thanks to this thin, lightweight device, which slips conveniently into my purse.

So now, instead of merely building a library in my home, I am also building a library in my purse, which is, you have to admit, pretty cool. (I also convinced my mom to get one for my dad for Christmas. And today in Starbucks, I was turning another mom on to the benefits of the device. I have a feeling, like Apple, Amazon is going to need to send me a commission. Oh, wait. They do.)

Used books: For some reason, until this year, I had been holding out on purchasing used books unless I was finding them at brick and mortar stores like Powell’s or my library’s used bookstore. But then I started working on a book and I need to own several books that I’d read before from the library. In fact, I decided I could no longer live without all of my favorite Seth Godin books. So what did I do? I went on Amazon and hunted them down at the cheapest price I could find for the best quality.

I also tried to select nearby distributors but this did not always work. In fact, one just arrived from, of all places, the UK, which is not close at all and took a really long time to get here. I don’t really care, though. The main point is that I now own those books and they look just as good as the books I purchased new on my shelf. In the end, they were not that much cheaper, but buying in some bulk, they were cheaper enough to make a difference.

New books (not discounted): Like most Americans, I received several bookstore gift cards for my birthday and Christmas this year. Naturally, being an omnivorous reader, they are all used up now. In using them, I have spread some of that book-buying love around to all of the major chain stores and expanded our home library a bit further. I also did a bit of shopping earlier in the year at that booming metropolis of an independent bookstore, Powell’s City of Books.

Google Reader: I spent the bulk of the first half of 2010 reading mostly from my Google Reader lineup. But once I got going writing my third book and was spending so much time on my computer already, some of the thrill of being in the know all the time was gone. I have to say that I am enjoying curling up with a good book or my Kindle a lot more than I enjoyed scrolling through my endlessly filling Google Reader. In fact, I’m basically scared to go in there now because I’m so far behind on my blog reading.

Although industry news has been made more accessible to me through my Google Reader, the lack of quality writing, despite my best efforts to follow strong writers, gets me down. Sure, I read more than ever, but I am just as picky as ever about the quality of reading that I prefer to experience. And I don’t see much of a solution in sight in this realm and this keeps me preferring to read good books and great journalism.

But, bottom line, do I care what format what I read is in?

Not so much. So long as it suits my particular, evolving tastes of what I like to read, when, where, and how.

For example, I discovered that I really enjoy reading short humorous essays on the Kindle. I got Nora Ephron’s new collection and was happy as a fan with her nose in a latest book to be among the first readers.

So what do we take away from this? Fans who don’t want to pay even the discounted hardcover price will love e-books. And can now consume their favorite authors’ books in bulk. This must be good news for publishing and writers, somehow.

So, if marketing books was complicated before, and it was, I’m pretty sure that it just got impossibly more complicated.

But don’t forget the take-away of this blog post: I am now reading more and purchasing more books in more formats than ever before. And I’m happier about reading than ever before because I can and do customize the experience to suit my personal tastes.

Now, that’s got to be good news for the publishing industry, not to mention a few other people who made some dough in the reselling process. I spent less time at the library in the second half of the year, but they are doing just fine. In fact, the place is hopping.

The bad news, if I were forced to search out the bad news, is that I am less likely to hop in the car and drive long distances to pay full price for books. I think we all — booksellers, publishers, and authors — need to take this into account, even though it is no fun to think about it.

And for the last entry in the bad news column, 2010 was the year that I could no longer keep up with the volume of “favor reads” that came my way from fellow authors. What this means is that I have simply hit a saturation point where I can’t seem to motivate myself to get excited about reading anything that I am not personally interested in or motivated to read.

Keep in mind that so much of my job already revolves around reading, often, like when I’m teaching, spending the better part of the whole day reading and editing and offering feedback on writing-in-progress. I am sure other writing instructors experience the same frustration, where after enjoying plenty of your students’ work, you just want to read what you want to read and you don’t want to feel pressured to read anybody else’s stuff, at least not until it’s that time on your schedule again.

Therefore, an entire stack of unsolicited books that came in for my attention have gone unread, although I try to give them a little buzz or point them in a promising direction when I can.

So that’s my analysis of my reading habits in 2010. I just wanted to report to all of those conference speakers I’ve heard in recent years: you were right, and yes, yes, I was being a stubborn hold-out there for a while. But in the long run, customization and pricing are likely going to prevail in book-selling at least to me.

How about you? What were your book-buying habits like in 2010?

P.S. This post surely contains typos. I’m sure we will all survive. I might catch them later.

~ Photo by LWY

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