Browsing and Discovery of Books in the Digital Age
Two of the largest technical publishing book conferences have just finished their sessions as of last week, Digital Book World in January and Tools of Change this past week. I attended neither but I paid attention to the articles and tweets that were written of and around the conferences. There did not appear to be much optimism nor was there much innovation. The one large question that loomed before publishers is how do they get readers to buy their books.
It used to be that publishers could essentially make a book popular by buying ads and placement in stores. Remember that everything in the store, even the bestseller lists in some retail places like grocery stores and Wal-Mart, were for sale. For a price, a publisher could position their book in the front of the store, face out, on an end cap, and so forth. It was through heightened in store placement that many books achieved success.
With the decline of in store placement due to the closure of Borders (which made up nearly a quarter of sales for some books), reduction of titles carried by Wal-mart, and retail space at Barnes & Noble replaced by nook promotions, in store book discovery is declining for many titles. There is simply less space that can be physically devoted to new books.
Further, with digital book sales increasing from 20-30% this year to likely over half by the end of the year, more customers will be discovering books in new ways. And that is the challenge for authors, publishers, and readers.
How to find a new, good book in the age of digital books.
It’s a question that we’ve addressed previously here at Dear Author. Many readers still go to the bookstore and browse the shelves. Others rely upon word of mouth which includes twitter, facebook, goodreads, and the plain old email service. Others sign up for newsletters, whether it is from authors, publishers or retailers. Still others belong to message boards at Amazon or B&N.
Finding a good book is a challenge. I’m constantly on the look out but I hate reading excerpts because excerpt reading can be time consuming. I recall one night, I spent about two hours downloading and then reading excerpts. That’s a hassle.
I try to go for recommendations from online friends, but sadly, they invariably recommend books I’ve already read. Lately I’ve been trying the recommendations suggested by Goodreads but without much success.
Mostly I try to read as many reviews as possible for a book I’m interested in and even then I’m only batting about 25% in the “decent read” game which is frustrating. I’d much rather bat 70% meaning 3 out of 4 books I purchase are decent reads. I think my low success rate, though, comes from being more adventurous in what I am trying to read. Back in the paper days, I bought primarily authors known to me and then by cover and blurb. But even back then I recall being overwhelmed by choice, with the covers all kind of running together in some big blur.
One thing I would like to see is a place where I could sign up for newsletters that would send me the author, title, blurb and link to an excerpt from specific publishers, authors, and/or tropes. Like I would love to receive an alert for every sports book, every friends to lovers romance released once a month in my inbox. There doesn’t seem to be anything like that. I’m keeping up a list of popular new releases but it is by no means exhaustive and it isn’t sorted by genre or trope.
Sometimes I’ve spent so much time trying to figure out what to read that by the time I’ve picked a book out, I’m too sleepy to read (much of my “discovery” is happening late at night after tot has been put to bed). Ned relies mainly on me and for him, I’m asking my fantasy reading friends what to read. Word of mouth is definitely the best and most reliable source of good reads. But beyond that, how does a book gain your attention and what are you doing to increase the “decent read” hit? Have your browsing and discovery habits changed from when you used to buy print books? What is one thing that authors, publishers could be doing better to bring books to your attention?