Thursday, September 29, 2011

Why Do You Buy Books?

A 2010 study by Verso Advertising sought to graph what made people buy books. They singled out six key aspects that avid readers identified with. The results went:

1. Author reputation (52%)
2. Personal recommendation (49%)
3. Price (45%)
4. Book Reviews (37%)
5. Cover/Blurb (22%)
6. Advertising (including online) 14%

Wisely, the researchers allowed motives to overlap. You know you’ve waited for that new novel from your favorite author to go on sale before you got it. A cover can make you try the first few pages in a bookstore. If friendly recommendations are backed up by professional reviews or Goodreads… you get the idea.

Susan Kaye Quinn recently asked why her readers picked up their last three books. It's a good question. So readers, what are the last three books you bought? What made you get them? Were they paper or e-books? Could the above six motives apply, or are there other factors?

I reviewed my own recent purchases just to check. The first undeniably fits.

  1. Booker T. Washington’s UP FROM SLAVERY (Cosimo Classics 2007; originally, 1901)
There’s no question that the author’s reputation drew me to the book. It’s the same effect that moves so many celebrity memoirs, even if Mr. Washington’s celebrity is a little more respectable than most. He lived as a slave child during pre-Civil War U.S., through the Jim Crow period, and became a hugely influential and controversial political figure. Giving his opinions due time is just part of my intellectual back-filling. It was going to happen eventually.

  1. Harold Lamb’s HANNIBAL: ONE MAN AGAINST ROME (Bantam 1958)
“Subject” feels excluded from Verso’s six. For instance, I picked up a book about this infamous military figure because I don’t know much about him. The subject matter interested me more than Lamb’s reputation or book reviews. Reviews helped me narrow done which book about Hannibal I’d take, but it was secondary to my pursuit to broaden my understanding about the figure beyond his Wikipedia article.

     3. James Patrick Kelly's BURN (Tachyon Publications 2006)

I technically got this book for the second time. Kelly is well-respected in the SciFi community, well-reviewed, and a winner of awards that leave me green with envy. “Author reputation,” there you go. BURN is short enough that I figured I could give Kelly a shot. But then a certain someone borrowed my copy. And took it somewhere to the vicinity of New Mexico. Two years ago. Last week I realized I’m probably never going to see it again. I also realized Kelly provides the entire audiobook for free in podcast form on his site. Having author endorsement, and having already actually given money to that author, I downloaded my new copy. I guess that’s “Price.”

As I finish the latest draft of my new book, I wonder. What are the three books you bought most recently? And why?


  1. The last three books I purchased were all on my Kindle.

    Don't Fear the Reaper by Michelle Muto - self-published, dark, YA book I bought because I know the author and she's an amazing writer. Read it. Loved it. Highly recommend it.

    Run by Ann Patchett - purchased because it's the book club selection this month (haven't read it yet)

    Working Stiff by Rachel Caine - purchased because Rachel Caine is one of my favorite authors, a fellow New Mexican, and this is the first book in her new series. I wasn't thrilled with the concept or blurb, but because I loved Caine's last two series I decided to give it a shot. I finished it last night. Loved it.

    The last three paper books I purchased were because they were by favorite authors (Pale Demon by Kim Harrison, Spellbound by Kelley Armstrong) and the recommendation of a friend (Shadow & Claw by Gene Wolfe).

    I purchsed these in paper because Harrison's & Armstrong's are both books in a series I own and I like to have the compelte set. Shadow & Claw I bought in paper because it was on sale at Borders before it closed. I prefer the Kindle because I'm running out of storage space and it's a heck of a lot easier to carry around in my purse.

  2. This is fun, and I love the diversity of your purchases!

    For me, the last three were...

    3. Drood by Dan Simmons. I love his historical horror, the amount of research he puts into crafting his worlds is staggering. I still hadn't finished The Terror at the time of my purchase, but as I recall I think I had one of those coupons Borders used to send out...

    2. Haggopian & Other Stories by Brian Lumley. I had just finished another collection of modern Lovecraftian tales, and was going through withdrawal. Also, I had a Borders coupon.

    1. Cold Skin by Albert Sánchez Piñol. I had just finished The Terror and wanted more chilly arctic/antarctic horror to ease the withdrawal. I remembered two clients at my internship were working on an adaptation, and was curious.

    ...I'm going to miss those Borders coupons.

  3. Let's see, the last three books I purchased...I've actually purchased something like 10 books this week, so I'm going to do the top five. :-/ Hope that's allowable. I love reading.

    I also have the benefit of still using up multiple bookstore gift cards from my birthday in January, so price is less of a stumbling block here than it could be.

    1.) Deerskin, by Robin McKinley. I'd read a copy before from the library and I love Robin McKinley's work so I'm trying to add to my library of her paperbacks on my bookshelf. I guess that would fall under #1?

    2.) New Tales of Watership Down, by Richard Adams. I've had this on my Goodreads list for five years and found a used copy. Also, it's about bunnies.

    3.) Thursday Next - First Among Sequels by Jasper Fforde. I found this hardcover at the dollar tree, and recognized the series from a booktalk given in class last term. I've been meaning to read The Eyre Affair for months, hopefully this will inspire me to get a copy of the first one.

    4.) Steamed, a Steampunk Romance by Katie McAlister. I picked up Ain't Myth-Behaving by her at the local thrift store for a quarter, and she's a very funny and witty writer without a lot of cloying, syrupy romance. Much more focuses on witty sparring matches with her couples. A friend recommended this one to me, her writing is good, I like steampunk and it was worth paying full price.

    5.) Ship Breaker by Paulo Bacigalupi. Because I loved The Windup Girl, was at the bookstore with the gift card already, and it had a really cool endcap display with zepplins. Gonna be honest.

  4. That poll looks about right to me. The last 3 books I bought were:

    Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente. - Got a recommendation on a short story of hers from a friend, loved it, and decided to try out a novel.

    The Scar by China Mieville - I'd read two of his other books before, but I picked up the other books due to blog book reviews.

    Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti by Genevieve Valentine - Also another one recommended on the blogosphere.

    Now, I need to find time to read them.

  5. 1.) The Algorithm Design Manual by Steven Skiena - Someone submitted an article to Hacker News about how to excel in a job interview about algorithms, and I posted a comment asking people for advice on how to brush up on the subject even when you don't work with it on a day-to-day basis. This book was recommended several times in the ensuing discussion. I was still hesitant to buy it because of the high price, but when I saw that Steve Yegge hyped it in a blog post, I was sold. (Steve Yegge is a well-respected coder/blogger.)

    2.) Seneca's Letters From a Stoic - I believe Derek Sivers recommended this book, perhaps in an interview or on his blog. If Derek Sivers jumped off a cliff, I would too; so I'll be damned if I don't buy a book he recommends.

    3.) Homo Ludens by J. Huizinga - This book gets thrown around a lot when you study game design, so I was already very familiar with its subject and themes. I finally decided to buy it when, in the span of 48 hours, I saw it referenced in two other books that had nothing to do with game design whatsoever.

  6. In reverse order:

    1.) Montessori Madness by Trevor Eissler. 100% SUBJECT. Since, you know, I'm teaching/working at one, and should know more about it than I actually do. ^.^;

    2.) The Potter's Studio Handbook by Kristin Muller. Once again, SUBJECT, since, you know, I'm doing all that pottery stuff.

    3.) A Clash of Kings by George Martin. This I'm not sure how to categorize. It's sort of a bunch of things. Author, recommendation... probably book reviews, too. Also, it being the second of a series that I plan to finish helps (though whether or not George Martin will be around to finish it himself remains to be seen... -_-).

    I would just like to note that, as a bibliophile and someone who has purchased rare/out of print books for far more than their original price, price almost never factors in to my decision to buy a book. In fact, I can't think of a single time that it ever has. ^.^;;;

    Despite this list, I think the single thing that influences my purchases more than anything else is recommendations from friends. If someone else has read it and liked it (and we have reasonably similar tastes in reading material), I will undoubtedly pick it up. And then let it sit on my shelf for months before getting around to it because I'm so far behind on my reading list it's scary. ^.^;

  7. This is hard, but good.

    I can't single out three, just because I'm bought in bulk lately. Top Shelf Comics had a huge sale, and I'll admit I used the pricing point to take advantage of my general wish to be able to take a chance on a book from it's cover/blurb and what reviews I've read of it. And I wouldn't have even heard about the sale, or most of the books, without some personal recommendations.

    That netted me "Far Arden" by Kevin Cannon, "Finger Prints" by Will Dinski, "that salty air" by Tim Sievert, "Death by Chocolate" and "Less than Heroes" by David Yurkovich, "Moving Pictures" by the Immonens, and "Dear Julia" by Brian Briggs.

    Of course, the real reason for all of that is because I love comics, and want to give writers and artists I've never experienced before a chance. I like supporting new and emerging artists when I can, whether its with books, music, etc. I struggle that I only get a proper chance to do this when prices are sliced like they are, but I feel like that has less to do with some inherent cheapness or lack of understanding what that work is worth, and more to do with just making the best of tight purse strings.

    If that doesn't count as my last three, then I can just count it as one and say I bought "Sirens of Titan" by Kurt Vonnegut and "The Razor's Edge" by Somerset Maugham. These were mostly on author reputation, though the unaccounted for "intellectual guilt" in the list for not having read them yet ranks pretty high as well. I bought them discount, but I had decided I was going to get them anyway, so I feel safe saying price had nothing to do with it.

    So I guess those are my "three" - though I did pick up a second hand "complete Sherlock Holmes" at a library booksale - and that was mostly because it was dirt cheap, and I was shocked to find out that there were Holmes stories I hadn't read in my youth. So, price, and author reputation, if you want to knock it down to that.

  8. My last three books were from a series I'm currently reading and reviewing for another website. I planned on buying the books anyway though, since I knew the author's reputation and had recently enjoyed another book she'd written.

  9. Thanks for the shout out! And yes, I think subject should be in there. Certainly for non-fiction, but fiction as well. For example, I'll read anything with a really good time-travel story in it; or sentient robots; or time-traveling sentient robots. #GeekAlert



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