Friday, 25 February 2011

Browsing in the eBook era

With all the drama surrounding RED Group's financial woes, there has been much analysis on the interwebs and in media discussing how readers' changing habits are impacting the book selling and publishing industry. One of the main differences is the trend for consumers to purchase books online (especially internationally via Amazon or the Book Depository, for example). Another is the emergence of eReaders and the eBook.

I've never purchased a book online. Not a hard copy one. I've traditionally been a book store browser, far more inclined to peruse the shelves, pick up a book, flick through it and purchase -- often with the intention of reading immediately, but certainly not always. I never have identified a book I wanted and then ordered a cheaper version over the net. Until last September, I never had an account at Amazon; indeed, I had only ever visited the site a handful of times.

eBooks are another matter entirely.

I'm surprising myself at the readiness with which I seem to have embraced the eBook. I think it's the absolute immediacy, coupled with the relatively low cost. I love the fact I can look up a specific book or genre and download it to my Kindle right away. It's great for nights like tonight when I feel like something lightweight and fluffy.

Moreover, the lightweight Kindle device makes a chunky book so much easier to read. I haven't abandoned paperbacks all together. At least I don't think I have. (Although I can't help noticing that the only paperbacks I've bought in the last 6 months were books not available to me on the Kindle . . .) But there's a definite shift in my purchasing.

What I've also noticed, though, is how my foray into eReading has radically changed the way I browse for books to read. It's the classic digital media 'viral' marketing model. Amazon sends me a suggestions email every week, based on bestsellers and books similar to what I've recently bought or looked at. Similarly, the web site itself will tell you what books others who looked at this title ultimately bought. Everything is ranked on reader reviews, and price, and 'what others bought'. This often has me clicking and viewing and contemplating books that I would never have come across in a conventional book store.

In many ways this is fabulous. There are so many more titles available in the USA and online than could ever be featured in a local Australian book store -- even one usually as well stocked as Borders. But one needs to remember that quantity does not necessarily mean quality. I'm very well aware there's a whole lot of dross out there, dross that may well have been weeded out by the trusty book shop owner. Amazon reader reviews really cannot be trusted to provide an accurate indication, since one doesn't know what their criteria are. Much reading between the lines is required. On the flip side, however, the prices of such novels can be extremely low, often as little as 99c or even free, so there's little risk.

I'm finding this journey fascinating. It's giving me the freedom to be a whole lot more experimental in my reading, without clogging up my bookshelves or killing any trees. (Yes, I know a library would achieve the same, but that's beyond the scope of my contemplation.) The digital format is somehow baggage-free, a whole different medium. And yet I can still lurk in book shops as the mood takes me. In truth, however, a conventional tree-book now needs to carry a whole heap more weight in order to persuade me to buy it. My frivolous purchases are now more likely to be in pixels.

1 comment:

  1. Since moving to a country where English is not the first language, I have taken to buying most of my books online. Mostly through a local online store, but occasionally through Amazon. I love the fact that I can effectively browse through books, online. And with many books on Amazon, you can read a few pages already. And the recommendations are great - I have come across so many books that I would never have picked up otherwise. In actual fact, I think I now prefer this method to looking for books, rather than having to hunt for them in a real bookstore.