This past week the discussion arose in a group of writers I belong to about what is the best way to let readers know about your book? This led me to ponder not only what really influences readers to buy certain books, but also where they learn about them in the first place.
In considering my own book buying habits, one recent event has changed them drastically. Not only is money tighter in our household due to the economy, but the three bookstores in my hometown (two chain stores, one independent) have closed their doors forever. The only place to physically find and leaf through books now, besides the library (where the hours have been reduced by budget cuts), is at a handful of chain retail and grocery stores. Needless to say, the selection is limited and favors bestselling, established authors and those rare newcomers that the mainstream publishers have chosen to pour their marketing budget into. If I want to browse in a brick-and-mortar store, I have to go to the next town over, which I do only once very few months.
With a background in scientific research and statistics, I know how valuable marketing surveys must be for publishers to hone in on where to target their efforts. I found a collection of surveys compiled by the Booksellers Association of the UK with the results from several different surveys conducted from 2008 to early 2010. There are more things covered in these surveys than I can do justice to, but one thing they do highlight is how important word-of-mouth recommendations can be.
So, I tossed out a few open-ended questions over at the discussion boards of Historical Fiction Online. Ten people responded. Keep in mind this is by no means a scientific survey and purely reflects a sampling of a very well-informed, avid sector of historical fiction book buyers. Random readers passing through Wal-Mart may have given entirely different responses. Anyway, here goes:
1) Where do you find the books you buy? (At a bookstore, at a general merchandise store, second-hand bookstore, or online?)
More than half said they buy most of their books online. Many mentioned that their book buying habits have changed over the last few years, shifting toward online purchases.
2) Do you generally browse to find a book that might interest you, and if so do you take a broad approach or do you hone in on a particular era or subject matter first?
Most said they tend to target-search for a particular subject first, but will browse if time allows.
3) How important are reviews in influencing what you do or don't buy?
Responses varied from not at all (especially if the review is by another writer), to somewhat (depending in particular on the reviewer), to very important (but ultimately relying on their own tastes for final determination).
4) How important is word of mouth endorsement - for example, from a friend or on a discussion list such as this?
Most said that recommendations were important, but how much so depended on the source, and some added again that ultimately they make the final decision based on their own tastes.
5) Where do you generally learn of books that you later end up buying? (Advertisements, random chance, discussion lists, blogs, friends, etc.)
Most said blogs (6) and genre-specific discussion lists(7), but also friends (4), random searches and browsing(3), genre-specific periodicals (1), bookstore e-mails (2) and advertising (1).
So, now I'll ask my blog readers in general:
*** 1) How important are book reviews (blogs, newspapers or Amazon.com reader reviews) in alerting you to particular books or influencing what you purchase?
*** 2) Where do you purchase the books you buy now (online, bookstore, retail store, secondhand) and are your buying habits different from five years ago?