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

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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  • Shondra Walker January 21, 2011, 5:20 am

    Love this post! I also find that I read a lot more. With a toddler and #2 on the way, reading an entire book seems daunting at times. I love that I can read a few articles during nap time, or browse a magazine online, or read a book, if I so choose. The point is that I have choices, lots of them, and I wouldn’t change a thing about how technology has changed my life.

    I haven’t jumped on the Kindle bandwagon yet, although my husband has an iPad, but it isn’t because I have any sort of aversion toward them-I just have’t made the plunge.

  • Vi January 21, 2011, 2:42 pm

    Hi Christina,

    I’m very glad that you decided to let go of the paper format. I found your blog via your book Writer Mama, and my main criticism of your book, which I mostly enjoyed, was that it seemed outdated in places. You weren’t embracing the digital world. In your book, you hardly mentioned any digital tools; everything suggested required pen and paper. Perhaps you haven’t heard of Evernote. It’s an excellent tool for collecting research, jotting down ideas, saving websites, saving photos, saving photos of business cards, and pretty much anything. I suggest you check it out. I have absolutely no affiliation with that company. I simply love it.

    Also, I read your book on the Kindle, and the formatting is off. I posted a review of your book on Amazon on January 6, 2011.

    I’m so glad that you have decided to embrace the digital world.

    — Vi

  • Meryl K Evans January 21, 2011, 3:35 pm

    I have had a Kindle for almost a year… and anyone who knows me knows I love gadgets and geeky things. I’ve only read ONE book on it! I have other books on it, but I keep reaching for bound books over the Kindle.

    Don’t know what it would take for me to use the Kindle more often other than go on more trips. The one book I read on the Kindle was due to finding out the book club choice the night before leaving town. I had no time to go to a bookstore, so I downloaded it and took the Kindle with me on the trip.

  • Richard Scott January 21, 2011, 3:51 pm

    Thank you for this post. In many ways you sound like me–save for the being employed for gain part. (Some call it having your job outsources, others call it forced retiement).

    I read multiple books at a time, typically on a schedule, and find myself rereading books I’ve loved in the past.

    That said, I know people who would not read at all were it not for Facebook or email. They just find motion/video media more interesting, more immediate, more in the 15-second soundbyte format they’ve grown to love.

    For all the years I’ve claimed to be a writer (more years than I’ve actually put work into my craft), I’ve been married to the idea that one day an agent or publisher would come my way, love my work, and offer me wine, signings, and a movie contract.

    These days I understand that to make it in this market, eBooks/eReaders/ePublishing are the way to make your mark.

    I owned an eReader long before they were popular–still have it, and it has a ton of books on it.

    I guess the point of this rambling comment is, yes. You’re right. There are many ways to read, and the ways continue to grow.

    Reading is a love of mine. I just wish it were so of others I know. That would make my chosen retirement career–writing–more likely to be lucrative.

    Glad to have found your blog.

  • Blarue January 21, 2011, 6:49 pm

    I am reading just as much as ever, but because our family is in dire financial straits, I bought very few new books in 2010. I used the library even more than I usually do. I got a lot of books I wanted through paperbackswap and I bought some used books. I can’t remember the last time I paid full/new price for any book. I would love to have a Kindle or an I-pad… maybe later this year if things improve!

  • Kathy January 23, 2011, 5:08 pm

    Any books I purchased last year were all paper/ink. I can’t stand reading digital format! Some online articles, email, and a bit of FB is alright but that’s it.

    On the other hand, I write better typing in my blog or in Word rather than handwriting.

    Weird, huh?


  • Tara M Waysok January 23, 2011, 8:34 pm

    Thanks for posting this…I got a nook for a gift in early 2010 and I can’t go anywhere without it. I don’t have to carry 20 books every time I go to the cafe and work on projects. I am more selective about the print books and magazines I purchase, but in general, I read more as well. I love having the options…Plus, whenever I go to the used book store, it’s always packed so that has to be a good sign too!

  • Heather Justesen January 24, 2011, 10:31 pm

    I’ve been using the Kindle application on my Blackberry a lot the past few months. It’s convenient, always handy, and I can download a story at a moment’s notice. Unfortunately, I can get some paperbacks *shipped* for the same price, or less (new, not used) from Amazon as the Kindle books cost, which is an irritating shame, but then I have to find a place on my over-burdened shelf for them. I’m definitely reading more things from more sources now than I have in the past, though.

  • Anonymous January 24, 2011, 11:34 pm

    Wow. A bit rough on me there, Vi. I wrote WM in 2005/2006 and was not able to foresee all the changes that were forthcoming. And sure, it’s tough to translate a book with as many visual aides as WM has into Kindle, I would imagine. I’ll be sure to pass your assessment on to my publisher and I’ll try not to write a book that will never go out of date for you this time. I think if you look at my second book, you’ll see that I did a better job in that regard. However, it’s not in Kindle yet. So there you go, perfection definitely unattainable.

  • Anonymous January 24, 2011, 11:35 pm

    I’m finding that the Kindle is great for previewing books and then buying them in hard-copy after, if you think that might be helpful. šŸ™‚

  • Anonymous January 24, 2011, 11:37 pm

    Hi Richard,
    Not to worry, I think e-reading is growing more popular every day. šŸ™‚

  • Anonymous January 24, 2011, 11:37 pm

    Hi B,
    I think that some libraries will be offering e-readers soon, if they aren’t already.

  • Anonymous January 24, 2011, 11:39 pm

    Oh gosh, I love being able to more easily track down the older books that I might not have been able to find. And I think everyone will be buying more as the news that they are out there becomes more and more widespread. This is definitely a “Long Tail” kind of phenomenon as Chris Anderson spoke of in his book and blog of the same name.

  • Meryl K Evans January 25, 2011, 1:58 am

    Yes, that was a great suggestion. Wouldn’t you know it? I bought my second Kindle book today. I previewed it last night (a book club selection) and didn’t think the library book would be in time, so I bought it this morning when I went to the doctors. As soon as I get home… message from library the book is in.

  • Karen Banes January 25, 2011, 9:36 am

    I hear you, Christina. I got a kindle for Christmas and it really has transformed my reading habits. I think I held out for so long because I can’t bear the possibility of the total demise of the good old-fashioned book. But now I think I can accept that one doesn’t necessarily mean the death of the other. My Kindle is amazing, especially the way I can remember the title of a book I’ve wanted to read for years and never got around to, and have it in my hands 5 minutes later, but my Kindle still just doesn’t feel (or smell) the same as a brand new book šŸ™‚

  • Heidi Smith Luedtke January 25, 2011, 9:30 pm

    Thanks for delivering the not-so-bad news, Christina. I, too, am generally saturated with reading what I must for research and I read in all the same ways you do. LOVE that Kindle lets me drag 2,000 books around in my purse. Oh, and I still have room for the smashed up Nutrigrain bars I keep in there for my kids. I also like that readers are allow me to pull many feeds together in one place. Still, I have too many to keep track of. And I order books online (new and used), check out from the library, use interlibrary loan, and read the library’s electronic collection too.