Friday, July 8, 2011

Buying books

Buying books has gotten to be pretty complicated.

I truly admire people who go to the library for most of their reading material. In the end, supporting libraries guarantees more sales of books. I got completely out of the habit living abroad for many years in non-English speaking countries. Also, my erratic reading habits – starting, stopping, reading two or three books concurrently – don’t lend themselves to library due dates.

So I buy most of the books I read. And as a book consumer, I’m very conscious that my choices are critical to sustaining the book publishing industry in its various facets.

I have many choices:

• Buy a hardback book at full retail price when it comes out. This is important to support authors and independent bookstores.

• Buy a discounted hardback at a megastore. Still helps authors and megastores are an important part of the landscape, too.

• Buy a remaindered hardback. Doesn’t do much for authors, but is good for publishers (which actually helps authors since it’s important for publishers to be able to sell overstock) and still helps the independent bookstore. Politics & Prose, for instance, works hard at keeping its remainder shelves stocked with good books.

• Buy the ebook version for Kindle or iPad. Cuts out the bookstore, but potentially adds to my convenience in reading, and still gives a royalty to the author.

• Buy the audiobooks version. Increasingly, this is released simultaneously with the hardback. This supports a whole new industry in narrators and gives me the convenience of “reading” a book while walking, driving, working out, etc.

• Wait for the trade paperback to come out. What I often do when I see a new book I think I might like or which got a good review is to look for earlier books by the same author that have already come out in paperback. This is not as good for author/publisher/bookstore as buying the hardback, but helps keep them all in business.

• Buy the heavily discounted hardbacks or trade paperbacks through Amazon. So easy, relatively cheap – especially when you’re a prime customer and save on shipping costs – and yet fatal for those independent bookstores and megastores where I can go in, browse, relax, have a cup of coffee.

• Wait for the mass paperback, though of course a lot of books don’t make it to this stage.

• Buy the remaindered trade paperback. Helps my budget; almost as cheap as a triple tall cappuccino.

• Take pot luck at the library sale, where a hardback can cost less than a cookie.

What are the factors in my decisions?

• I still love the printed book – the covers, the typeface, the creamy paper. Book publishers have realized that we baby boomers need bigger print and more leading, so the hardbacks and trade paperbacks are easier than ever to read. But these books can be heavy, cumbersome, or just inconvenient in many situations. I was an early adopter for Kindle but have since abandoned it. I just got an iPad and downloaded the Kindle app, so I may get back to reading ebooks.

• I’m not in a big hurry to read most books. This won’t stop me from buying the hardback, but it will make me think twice.

• I resist having my iPod/iPhone as a constant companion. I could “read” a lot more, for instance, if I listened to audiobooks while walking the dog, but then when would I daydream, or think about my stories, or hear the chattering squirrels, or exchange a greeting with neighbors?

In the end, I will buy books on various platforms. Sometimes there is no choice – many books may be available only in hard copy. Perhaps they are out of print and available only as used books on Amazon’s helpful site for booksellers.
Some books may lend themselves to a particular platform. A friend of mine says he reads poetry on his iPad while killing time in airports. This seems to me to be a stroke of genius. No one can carry around a bag full of tiny poetry volumes, but you’re never sure what poet you’ll be in the mood for. Yet a poem is the perfect length (generally speaking) for those broken bits of 10 or 15 minutes you experience in air travel.

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