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Guest Opinion: The Ideal Reader: Is She Really Ideal? by Nadia...

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(Note:   I’m a writer, but for the purposes of this blog post, I’m wearing my “reader” hat.)

Given the seeming hatred toward ebooks and library lending and so on and so forth, the profile of an ideal reader for the Big Six appears to be something like this:

1.   Buys print (to prevent piracy)
2.   Buys new
3.   Does not use libraries, used book stores (UBS), or torrent sites
4.   Has sufficient disposable income for entertainment, such as movies, books, music, etc. that does not compete with grocery money
5.   Loves to read

Guess what?   I’ve been the Big Six’s ideal reader for the last six years.   I meet all their requirements.

So the publishers and the few authors who hate libraries, UBS and ebooks (because of piracy) should love the fact that I’m doing exactly what they want, right?   After all, I’m a REAL paying reader (one of the ones that REALLY count), not one of those “cheapos” who lend or buy used, thereby depriving them of the income they’re entitled to.

But is this really the ideal situation for them?

My total entertainment budget hasn’t decreased in the last six years.   As a matter of fact, it has gone up.   But I spend far less on books than I ever did when I had easy access to good libraries and UBS.

When it comes to titles published by the Big Six, I almost always buy mass market paperbacks (MMPBs).   They are currently priced at $6.99 – 7.99 on average.   I have an “auto-buy” list and a “good-enough-to-buy” list. Authors on those two lists always get bought, no matter what, because I’m fortunate enough to have sufficient funds for it. All new-to-me authors are bought using whatever funds are left over.   So I have to think very carefully before spending any of my “new-to-me author” budget.   Since I buy everything new, if I want to try 10 new-to-me authors, I need to spend somewhere between $70-80.   Unfortunately I really can’t spend that much on unknowns.   So I usually pick about 2-3 authors from the list every month.   (Sometimes none if all my auto-buy and good-enough-to-buy authors have books coming out back-to-back or something and deplete my budget.)

I can’t begin to count the number of DNFs and mediocre books by new-to-me authors that I’ve paid full price for.   There are times I’ve wished I could strip the covers (since they’re brand new MMPBs) and mail them back to the publishers for a refund.   I know I could get at least $1,000 that way.   If I had a library, it wouldn’t matter as much because I could still try other new-to-me authors on my list for free.   Maybe I’d discover somebody awesome that way.   But since I don’t have access to a library or UBS, once I spend my “new-to-me author” budget, I’m done.

Furthermore, new-to-me authors, no matter how great the buzz is, get one shot with me.   If they’re very lucky, two.   There’s this romance writer (who shall remain nameless) whose debut was “meh” for me.   Her next book was DNF.   (I only bought the next one because so many readers said I should give her another shot.)   Her latest is out in trade, and everyone says it’s the best thing since sliced bread.   I’m not going to risk my money on that author again though.   I’ve already forked over $16, and I think I’ve given her more than enough chances.

Now if I had a library where I could check out her latest for free, I might try her again, just to see.   And if I liked it, I might go ahead and put her on my good-enough-to-buy or auto-buy list.   But since I can’t, oh well.   There are other entertainment options.

This is somewhat true of my auto-buys and good-enough-to-buys.   If they disappoint me twice back-to-back, I demote them to my “buy-only-if-everyone-says-it’s-the-best-thing-evah” list.   Or worse, to my “no-longer-buy” list.   I can’t think of a single author who got demoted and then was later promoted again in the last six years.   If I had access to a library or UBS, I might have given them more opportunities to win me over.   But I’m not risking my money on an iffy prospect again.   I’ve given them sixteen dollars’ worth of chance.

Some may think, “What a cheapo!   It’s only $16!”

To put things in perspective, for $16 I can get any of the following:

  • 8 TV episodes from iTunes (at $1.99/each)
  • 5 TV episodes from iTunes plus some change left over (at $2.99/each)
  • 16 mp3 files from my favorite singers / bands
  • 3-7 movie rentals
  • my favorite pizza, which I can split with my husband, plus ice cream
  • a visit with my primary care physician
  • my favorite pasta plus dessert
  • 2 physical therapy sessions (plus some change left over)
  • 3-5 ebooks from publishers and indie authors who do not engage in agency pricing

(An interesting side observation:   I’ve noticed that I watch far more TV shows and movies than I did before I was forced into buying print and new all the time.)

Do I think I’m missing out?   Yup.   I know I’m not discovering many fabulous writers out there.   But unless and until I make millions like the CEOs of the Big Six, I’m not changing my buying habits.   After all, I am doing exactly what they want me to do:   Buy print, buy new, 100% of the time.

P.S.   In case anybody’s wondering, I do buy e-books if they’re DRM-free and not agency-priced.   This post is directed at the publishers who are doing everything they can to force readers into buying new print books all the time.   Like the old Chinese proverb says: be careful what you wish for…because you might actually get it.

About Nadia Lee:

Bilingual former management consultant Nadia Lee ( http://www.nadialee.net ) has lived in four different countries and enjoyed many adventures and excellent food around the globe. In the last eight years, she has kissed stingrays, got bitten by a shark, ridden an elephant and petted tigers.

She shares an apartment overlooking a river and palm trees in Japan with her husband, winter white hamsters and an ever-widening pile of books. When she’s not writing, she can be found digging through old Asian historical texts or planning another trip.

Carnal Secrets is her latest work.   You can find the blurb and excerpt on her website ( http://www.nadialee.net/bookshelf/carnal-secrets/ ).

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

27 Comments

  1. Chez
    Mar 22, 2011 @ 04:11:59

    Well I’m not quite the “ideal” reader. I love my library and use it to find a heaping bucketload of new authors all the time. My disposal entertainment budget does not stretch that far and whilst I still buy new for my auto buys, I must admit that there have been a lot less purchases on the “kind of good and especially good if my auto buys have nothing out this month” list.
    I’ve always used my local library to test the waters with a lot of authors, particularly the hardcover or trade paperback ones (there’s only three authors I’ll buy hardcover). If it wasn’t for them I would never have found Karen Chance, Ilona Andrews, Jeanne Stein and a host of other authors who have now gone on my “auto buy” list.
    I wish they would realise that the library starts people reading authors, who then go out and buy up the backlist of those same authors in case the library doesn’t replace wrecked books.

  2. Nadia Lee
    Mar 22, 2011 @ 04:18:56

    I've always used my local library to test the waters with a lot of authors, particularly the hardcover or trade paperback ones (there's only three authors I'll buy hardcover). If it wasn't for them I would never have found Karen Chance, Ilona Andrews, Jeanne Stein and a host of other authors who have now gone on my “auto buy” list.

    Chez,

    I envy you. :-) I live in Japan right now, and my city doesn’t have any good English language libraries. So I’m basically stuck having to buy new if I want to try someone new-to-me.

  3. Evangeline Holland
    Mar 22, 2011 @ 05:46:04

    I am definitely not the idea reader, but I also always choose books over movies, TV shows, and even *gasp* shopping for clothes. And my movie habits are currently fed by Netflix and TCM. However, my avid book buying is sporadic, and leans heavily towards non-fiction, SF/F/Urban Fantasy and general literature simply because reading romance while writing can be distracting.

    I grin and bear the prices of non-category romances (and sometimes Kensington prices their books fairly) if I want the book quite badly, but I will still buy print books if it is part of a series–I’m anal enough to want my formats to match. Oddly enough, I rarely use the library for new releases, since I hate the long waits and by the time my name comes up, there’s a 50% chance I’ve had the opportunity to read a few reviews and suss out if the book is my cup of tea.

    BUT, here’s what I fail to understand about publishers’ fears about ebooks and libraries: they give away free books by the truckload to scores of reader/review blogs across the ‘net, they give away truckloads of books at conventions like RT and RWA, books are given away on GoodReads and Library Thing, and they are given away via Amazon’s first reader program. Despite the purpose of these giveaways, that’s a helluva lot of free books that are more easily circulated and accessed than e-books and borrowing from the library.

  4. Black Velvet
    Mar 22, 2011 @ 06:00:07

    I think I’m a split of the guidelines you have above. I work in a bookstore, so I buy print most of the time (although with my new ereader that is slowly becoming digital). I also think I have a different line in the sand for what I will pay for mmpb and ebooks. I employ the 30% rule. If I can’t get the digital for at least 30% off the mmpb or trade price, I buy the physical book because I can get that discount in my bookstore.

    For me this means I get a better bang for my buck, but even still I do frequent used bookstores (must by my old cookbooks somewhere) and libraries (though I don’t check out anything from them, its more for the peace and quiet).

  5. DS
    Mar 22, 2011 @ 07:23:05

    Excuse me while I goggle at your doctor visit and physical therapy session.

  6. Kimber An
    Mar 22, 2011 @ 07:26:22

    My ideal reader has an open heart, an open mind, and loves to tell her friends.

  7. SAO
    Mar 22, 2011 @ 07:33:34

    Almost all of the new print fiction I buy goes to the book swap or otherwise passed on to another reader in less than 6 months.

    I’ve long wondered what percent of books get read by one person only, by 2-4 people, by 5 -10, etc. I’m sure the publishers have no idea.

  8. M
    Mar 22, 2011 @ 07:38:24

    Great post!

    I think this sentence needs a little tweaking:

    Given the seeming hatred toward ebooks and library lending and so on and so forth, the profile of an ideal reader customer for the Big Six appears to be something like this:

    I think it’s an important distinction because it underscores that publishers are business people first and foremost. I don’t disagree with your characterization of the ideal customer – a very rare breed these days. I think think that the publishers should cater to the customers they have, not the ones they want if they wish to stay in business. Just reading the comments here should be a wakeup call for the big six and the rest who are still stuck in the past.

  9. Isobel Carr
    Mar 22, 2011 @ 08:58:22

    I’m a 4/5 on your scale, but I think my move to eBooks has made me MORE of an ideal reader. Why? Because with the free samples on Amazon, I try a lot more authors than I ever did when I bought in print. If I get to end of a sample and I’m bummed, it’s so easy to buy it and keep reading . . . if I don’t finish the sample, it’s easy to delete it and move on to the next one. And Amazon lets you return eBooks for 7 days. I've only had one DNF new author in the past year, and I returned it and got my money back (heroine took a 180 into TSTL in the chapters immediately following the sample).

  10. Brussel Sprout
    Mar 22, 2011 @ 09:17:48

    I’m an ‘ideal’ reader too….but my book budget scarcely goes on romances now, because I’ve been too burned. I’ve moved more to YA for my quick and easy reads. But all of those, I tend to download, not buy as print.

    Like Isobel, the big difference for me is excerpts on websites and the possibility of downloading sample chapters on Kindle. I don’t yet have a dedicated e-reader (I read on my computer or on iPod touch) but I am planning on getting the iPad 3 when it comes out either later this year or early next year.

    I still buy significant numbers of print books – mainly history, philosophy, study-related books and literary fiction. I definitely find the print book more satisfying and memorable an experience than the e-book. That said, I love the annotation facilities.

  11. Karen Wheless
    Mar 22, 2011 @ 09:41:21

    I’ve become more of an “ideal” reader over time. I got frustrated with libraries after a while because of the poor romance selection, and the used bookstores have been going out of business at a rapid clip. I still use paperbackswap but less often than I used to. But I don’t think I ever would have become an avid reader if I’d had to only buy new books. Now I’m middle aged and have a good job with disposable income. So I can afford to buy more books. But when I started reading, I was a student and buying books with babysitting money or from a part-time job. I could only afford one or two new books a month. If I’d been limited to only reading 1-2 books a month, I never would have become an avid reader. It was by reading extensively (checking out 10 books at a time from the library, buying a bag of books at a used boosktore) that I learned to love reading and became the “ideal” reader that I am now.

    I realize that publishers don’t want to give their books away, but every middle aged avid reader that I know who buys their books new started out reading books from the library when they were young and broke. They won’t be able to build their readership long term if they cut off those readers.

  12. Lisa W.
    Mar 22, 2011 @ 10:01:01

    Great article! I can only hope that the Agency publishers realize that we readers WANT to buy their books, but we’re also smart and savvy about our spending – which keeps many of us from purchasing their high priced ebooks.

  13. Jane
    Mar 22, 2011 @ 10:03:02

    I’ve come to the conclusion that because the library market is so small that publishers believe, at least right now, that limits that would reduce library participation in digital book lending is a) not a negative and b) if negative, one that can be made up with just a few purchases by readers.

    Is there more of a social responsibility factor when we talk about libraries and publishers? I.e., if this is the best financial decision for publishers, do we as readers require them to have a corporate social conscience?

  14. dick
    Mar 22, 2011 @ 10:03:34

    I guess I’m an ideal reader for the Big Six, whoever they are. I buy mmpb new if the blurb and page one interest me. Libraries make me cough (literally); I can’t abide reading a screen. So I buy new.
    My usual response to a DNF which I bought new, or even a finisher which sort of stunk, is thinking that particular publisher needs some new editors. How some of the books published get published completely mystifies. Think I’d get an answer if I wrote one of those editors and asked what in the hell he/she was thinking when they bought that book?

  15. Allie
    Mar 22, 2011 @ 10:12:12

    This won’t do you any good if you are anti-DRM, but many library systems, if you do not live in their covered area, will let you buy a card for $10 or $15 a year, and you can get ebooks that way, to read on your computer or on a gadget that will deal with the DRM. Same with audiobooks. My library system has many new books available in both formats in addition to print.

  16. Kerensa
    Mar 22, 2011 @ 10:20:52

    I’m NOT an ideal customer for the Big 6. I’ve been on unemployment for over a year now (ONE interview in that time, despite all the resumes I sent out, and the funds run out next month), and am about to plunk down a boatload of $$money$$ for grad school and a career change. But if the Big 6 are smart, they’ll keep feeding my reading habit.

    Why? Because when I graduate, and get a job, books are one of the first things I’ll add back into my budget (after better groceries and clothes from some place other than Value Village). As it stands now, I did spend part of a gift card from Amazon on a new ebook (a friend gifted me her old 1st generation Kindle). It sounded like a fun read, but after I got into it, I realized how utterly clunky the writing, characterization and plot were. I wasted my “free” money on it, and now I won’t buy that author ever again.

    Come to think of it, maybe *that’s* why publishers don’t like the library/UBS model. If I find out in advance that an author sucks, I won’t shell out money for their books. But if I *can’t* find that out, I might spend some of my cash before I learn the truth.

    Or maybe I’m just paranoid. :)

    P.S. If you rent at RedBox, you can get 16 movies for your $16. That’s a LOT of entertainment, which can be shared with the whole family, plus whoever you want to invite into your house, as opposed to two (potentially lousy) paperbacks, or one discounted hardback.

  17. Kati
    Mar 22, 2011 @ 10:33:51

    I literally haven’t bought a print book for myself in eight months. If it’s not available on Kindle, I don’t buy it. The only exceptions are ARCs for blogging.

    So I guess I’m a less than ideal reader. I just couldn’t store all the print copies. I’m moving this summer and will be pruning my print keepers back again. I just don’t have the space.

  18. Nadia Lee
    Mar 22, 2011 @ 10:43:23

    @Kerensa: Alas, we don’t have RedBox where we live. But we do get discount nights from time to time, so that’s when we get a bunch of DVDs cheap. :-)

  19. Bonnie L.
    Mar 22, 2011 @ 10:58:07

    I’m in that space in between student and middle-age in which I’m just starting to develop budgetary padding that allows me to have discretionary spending. However, with two young children, a lot of my spending is focused on them. I do what I can with what I have and I am telling you that the library is my absolute best friend. I do live in an area that has a lot of library branches/ partner libraries, so my selection is quite good.

    The library is ideal for me because it allows me to find books that are worthy of a re-read. I will only buy books that I know I’ll read again, so the library allows me to find buy-worthy books. If I find myself checking a particular author or book out multiple times, they or it goes onto my seek-out-and-buy list.

    As I see it, publishing companies should develop a symbiotic relationship with libraries. I would say that most people are in a place where I am now with limited or no money to spend on books. That does not mean we are not potential customers and the publishing companies would be foolish not to recognize and nurture that potential.

  20. Hannah
    Mar 22, 2011 @ 11:00:24

    An alternative to the “ideal reader” in point #1 could be one who buys ebooks at agency-set prices (sometimes on par with the cost of the print book).
    I’m trying to keep my book buying under $30 per month. This means that I won’t be buying many books that are $9.99 and up. I’ll probably become less of an ideal customer if I can stick to my budget, though for the past year since I’ve gotten into ebooks, I haven’t bought many in print.

  21. bettie
    Mar 22, 2011 @ 11:04:15

    Excellent post, Nadia. I wish Pubs would stop treating libraries like the enemy and realize that while libraries may not sell books, they do sell authors and create fans. Every single author on my auto-buy list started out as a library or lend read. For the price of one library book, pubs get two or more auto-buys from me–sometimes even in hardback, and usually the same week the book is released.

  22. Minx Malone
    Mar 22, 2011 @ 11:09:18

    I absolutely think we have to require the Big 6 to have some social responsibility. Libraries feed the minds of our youth as well and for some, it is the only safe place they have to learn.

    The idea of someone not having access to a library makes me unbelievably sad. If I couldn’t lose myself in a story every day I don’t think I’d be the same person.

  23. Chelsea
    Mar 22, 2011 @ 14:22:11

    I am not at all the ideal reader. I lend and borrow, buy used, trade, buy with coupons, and buy ebooks. Heh.

    But because of these practices I have, as a lowly college student with a book budget of $30/month, have amassed a rather impressive personal library including a TBR shelf with between 20-40 books at a time. And I’m not sorry. Because of this, I am able to read my favorite authors (who I always by new, because they’ve earned it) and many, many new authors. I have accidently discovered so many great books, and every now and then those turn in to favorite authors and auto-buys.

  24. Liz
    Mar 22, 2011 @ 19:38:59

    @DS: Haha exactly my thought! Where do I sign up for that insurance?

  25. Kelly C.
    Mar 22, 2011 @ 20:17:56

    LOL in regards to the insurance/physical therapy comments made by the posters. Once upon a time, my co-pay was $10 then $15, so I could see my doctor for “$16″ too. But, even when I had good insurance, (I was told VERY good in fact) physical therapy was $50 a pop (30-45 minute sessions) and that was 8+ years ago.

  26. Nadia Lee
    Mar 22, 2011 @ 23:10:56

    @DS, Liz & Kelly C

    LOL. Well. I live in Japan, and we’re covered under the national insurance scheme (which costs about $400+ a month for both of us plus 33% co-pay). So I can actually get a physical therapy session (lasting about 30 minutes or so) for $7.50 (just co-pay on my part).

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