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
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.