The age of non-discovery

The age of non-discovery

Many years ago, I was on a trip in Alaska and had read through all of the books I had brought. I think I was in the Anchorage airport, and then was one spinner rack with paperbacks on it.

They were the Bantam Doc Savage reprints.

I grabbed a few, needing something to read.

Doc would become one of my fictional heroes, and in some ways, would influence my desire to help other people.

The same sort of thing happened when I was on an island. The only books available were the Remo Williams books, including

Created, The Destroyer (The Destroyer #1)

While I read a lot of different types of books, I think I would have been unlikely to pick up a book series called “The Destroyer”, although  Remo Williams is a lot more fun than that suggests.

In both cases, the deciding factor in purchasing the book was that…they were there.

With the availability of e-books, that changes.

As long as you have some sort of internet connection available (wi-fi, 3G, 4G), there is always a huge variety of books available.

As a former brick and mortar bookstore manager, that got me thinking about places where we impulse buy paperbooks, and how they may simply go away.

Take the grocery store, for example.

Mine still has…oh, a quarter of one side of an aisle with books and magazines.

It’s hard for me to imagine buying one of those books. If I saw one that intrigued me, I’d just buy it in e-book form. That’s what is referred to as “showcasing”…seeing something in a physical location, and then buying it online.

How long will they devote that valuable (and expensive) store space to p-books and p-mags?

I would guess not much longer. Oh, I think we’ll continue to see p-mags at the check-outs for longer than that, but part of an aisle? I’d be surprised if that’s still there two years from now (at least, certainly, for books).

What about a 7-11? Some of those used to have books. Definitely, our CVS has had some.

Back to my Alaskan episode: why do you need p-bookstores in airports if people have EBRs (E-Book Readers) and tablets?

It won’t happen right away, but I can also see those terminal stores eliminating p-books.

Gas stations? Same thing.

Costco? Target? Yes, although I think some people are drawn to a Costco to buy p-books currently.

One interesting possibility would be that we start seeing more advertising for e-books in those locations. I’ve seen ads for TV shows in grocery stores…this would be the same sort of thing. The grocery store would make money selling advertising space to the publisher of the e-book, and we would then buy the e-books.

It would be possible to make certain e-books only available in certain locations, but I don’t see that being really successful. I wouldn’t want to have to travel to a store just because I could get a particular e-book while I was there.

Now, my reader Roger certainly might suggest that print-on-demand machines could fill in some of these gaps, and I think there is some validity to that. I think, though, that the days of buying a paperbook on impulse in a brick and mortar location are on the way out.

Update: a comment from Jeff, one of my readers, inspired me to expand this post. I don’t often do that (partially because most people who have read a post originally will be unaware of the update), but I did want to clarify something.

This post was specifically about paperbooks that you would encounter unexpectedly, or when buying a book wasn’t your primary purpose at that time…what is referred to as an “impulse buy”.

When we (I’m a former retailer) talk about impulse buys, we mean that they occur without pre-planning or much consideration about it at the time. You see it, you buy it. You don’t go back and forth and consider the merits.

Is impulse buying different for e-books and p-books? I think it generally is.

First, I’ve said many times that the “book” is what the author has written (and the editor edited and so on). An e-book is just as much a “real book” as a p-book. That’s why I started using the term “p-book”, to create an equity with “e-book”. Five years ago, some people would talk about just plain “books” meaning paperbooks, and “e-books”, to differentiate.

That was never my feeling on it.

However, when we are talking about selling a book, the medium* truly does matter.

You couldn’t sell a movie on 16mm film in several giant film cans the same way you can sell a digital copy today. The former would just go to specialized collectors, which would likely not be an impulse buy. If you put those film cans in the checkout line at the local grocery store, you would likely never sell one. If you either offered them online, or in a specialized store, or perhaps at a convention of film buffs, you would.

Similarly, I think it’s becoming less likely that you’ll be able to sell paperbooks on impulse in the places where it has been since about World War II (on spinner racks in a “drugstore”, for example).

Do people impulse buy e-books?

That’s a bit trickier to define, and I don’t think people are doing that much yet.

Certainly, I see something in the Kindle Daily Deal, and I may buy it although I had no plan to do so ten minutes earlier.

Here’s the difference, though: I went to look at the Kindle Daily Deal (which I do pretty much every day).

I was already mentally prepared for the fact that I might buy a book, even if it wasn’t that particular one.

With the kind of discovery I was discussing, someone would see a book and buy it when they hadn’t gone out to buy a book.

That doesn’t quite fit my personal experiences in the beginning of this post…I was looking for a book, although I wasn’t in a spot specifically to buy one.

Impulse buying of e-books can occur when you get an e-mail you hadn’t specifically requested, or maybe see one in a tweet, or get to it in an app or be scanning a code in a magazine.

As AR** (Augmented Reality) becomes more a part of our lives, there will be more impulse buying of digital goods. AR is when you are looking “through” your cellphone (or, in the future, through items like Google glasses), and you see something additional (an augmentation) laid over that reality. You could be on a bus, for example, and “see” books floating past you, asking to be purchased. That would create true impulse buying of e-books.

If impulse buying of paperbooks largely goes away, that will change the way that people will market them. I’ve suggested a scenario before where we see some popular new novels costing $50 (but being printed on much higher quality materials) in the next few years, and those won’t be sold on impulse.

Thanks to Jeff for a comment that, I think, helped me enhance this post.

* Jeff had referenced Marshall McLuhan, who famously said “the medium is the message”

** To use AR, you have to have a camera (since something needs to perceive your current reality before it can add to it). For Kindles, that means the second generation of Kindle Fires. Here is a search for compatible augmented reality in the Amazon Appstore

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

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12 Responses to “The age of non-discovery”

  1. Jeff Says:

    I have bought ebooks on “impulse” when offered by Amazon through their “daily deals.” For example, I never would have bought and read Life of Pi — even from a book rack. But, I did and really enjoyed the book and was surprised when it was made into a movie. There have been others but that is the first that came to mind. I can foresee that program and others similar coming forward that might fill that “new and different” gap.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Jeff!

      Yes, no question…many e-book buys are on impulse. Amazon has recently expanded the Kindle Daily Deal to show more books in specific genres:

      Kindle Daily Deal

      I was specifically speaking about p-books (paperbooks), just because that’s where I see a significant change from the past here. Penguin and Pocket had a lot to do with getting books out of bookstores and into other venues in the first place, I believe…but that was decades ago.

  2. D. Knight Says:

    Although I’ve always been an eclectic reader, I still think I’ve expanded my my reading horizons after getting a Kindle, mostly because of the free/cheap books available. Since getting my first Kindle a little more than 2 years ago, I’ve probably read between 50 and 100 books that I otherwise wouldn’t have read. I’m much more willing to take a chance on a book that costs a buck or two and takes no additional space in my house.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Roger!

      Oh, I agree! I’ve certainly licensed a lot more books in different genres, although I don’t think I’ll ever read all the freebies…

  3. Jamie Says:

    As long as Costco offers books which are at times cheaper than the eBook, I’ll still buy them there.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Jamie!

      I stopped buying p-books (paperbooks) for myself (regardless of price comparison to e-books) some time ago. There are a number of reasons for that:

      * I benefit from the ability to increase the text size, and text-to-speech has been a huge advantage in the car
      * I was never one to sell my p-books after I bought them. So, part of the calculation for me is the amount of my mortgage that goes to storing p-books in my house. For other people, that might be rent of property tax. That adds considerably to the cost of a p-book over time
      * I have several people on my account, and we can all easily read the same e-book, but not the same p-book
      * The ecological impact of p-books does concern me (I’ve read some pretty good analyses). It’s not just the chemicals used to produce them, but the effect of trucking them to that Costco. While e-books aren’t without some ecological impact, I don’t think they cause as many issues as p-books

      I think you are going to find that Costco will not continue to have some of the books cheaper generally within, oh, three years or so (might be a lot sooner). It was unusual (but not unheard of) that they had books cheaper before the Agency Model (which came into effect in April of 2010). Now that the Department of Justice’s action may take that down (three publishers have already settled), Amazon and other retailers can go back to discount e-books. That will make a difference. I also think that a reasonable scenario is that new popular novels will be produced with greater quality of construction at a greater price (I’ve suggested $50). While that could appeal to Costco shoppers, the warehouse store will have to consider the cost per square foot of having those books ($200 in books takes up a lot more space than $200 in nicer jewelry).

      My guess is that Costco will stop having a book section before they stop carrying them altogether…and you might have to buy them out of a display case.

  4. skubitwo Says:

    I guess it would make me sort of sad to see them go completely – the “impulse” p-book set-ups. Partly, though, that is because I have several beloved authors that the publishers still have not released kindle versions of. I’m not sure if it’s the publisher or the author. I understand it can be one or the other or even both. But, I sometimes find copies of their earlier works in those sorts of “impulse” venues.

  5. Jeff Says:

    Honestly, I think you missed my point — and your own. The principle thrust of your post, titled “The Age of Non-Discovery,” was about finding books (paperback in this case) that you might not have sought out otherwise. You mention finding Doc Savage reprints in the Anchorage airport and introducing yourself to Remo Williams books when they were the only thing available on an island.

    As Marshall McLuhan said “it’s the message, not the medium.” It’s not the paper and color cover of a book, or for that matter the feel of the wood rolling a scroll, or the heft of a stone tablet — all modern medium of their era — it’s the words that count. For me, I had a few books on hand when I got my first Kindle. Initially I thought I would read them interspersed with books on the Kindle. I wound up doubling up and buying ebooks of the same title because it was so much easier, convenient and enjoyable to read on the Kindle.

    Certainly with ebooks it is possible to stay within a genre, like living in a closed circle. But, I was saying programs like the Kindle Deal of the Day that offers up titles that one might never have considered is the new model and there may be others that will follow (if they aren’t already around) that will be a way to expose readers to books they might not have sought out on their own.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Jeff!

      I didn’t miss my point, and I apologize if you think I missed yours. :)

      I was careful to point out that I was talking about paperbooks. While I’m also careful to refer to e-books and p-books equally (they are all books), the point was the change in the industry, which is different for p-books and e-books.

      My point was that paper publishers need to reconsider discovery of their product, not that people would read a narrower field of books. If discovery shifts significantly to e-books, then their marketing methods have to change.

      The McLuhan quote is that the “medium is the message”, I believe. As I understand McLuhan, the issue was that the message delivered by television is inherently different than the message delivered by, say, a paperbook.

      I’ll return to this (I’m just on a short break), but as I mentioned, I agree with your point about e-books leading to additional discovery.

  6. Edward Boyhan Says:

    I’ve been going in to my local Target a lot recently for holiday decorations. I may have mentioned that I did a lot of consulting at Target a few years back.

    I was intrigued tyo notice that the aisle space given over to MMB (Movies Music Books) has been drastically cut back. It was particularly noteworthy in music where even many of the top 10 albums were missing.

    So I think the move to etainment is proceeding apace — at least at Target :D

  7. liz2germany Says:

    I’d say that the reasons for my “impulse” purchases of e-books is very similar to my past p-book impulse buys – good price, known author, interesting cover, intriguing summary, good reviews, recommendations, etc. However, I no longer have the desperation-led purchases of books, such as what you mentioned when you were out of town without something to read; now, I have a couple of thousand books in my purse (Mindle) or pocket (Smartphone), so there’s really no chance that I’ll be without a book ever again!

    Publishers will need to continue to offer quality books at decent prices to encourage readers to buy their wares, impulse or not. If they make these books available at places that consumers frequent (Amazon, B&N, etc.), they’ll do well. If they boycott one of their largest venues (Amazon), they’ll shoot themselves in the foot.

    My two cents…

  8. Round up #135: Agency Model ends in EU, update for KFHD7 « I Love My Kindle Says:

    [...] considerably updated The age of non-discovery, partially inspired by a comment from a reader named Jeff. I thought the changes were significant [...]

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