Sunday, December 4, 2011

Do consumers want fancier books?

Rummaging around in book news I found this article posted on about how publishers are combating the e-book market by publishing ink-and-paper books with “special effects.” No, no holograms jumping out tossing confetti and slaying unicorns. Rather, publishing books with attractive, detailed cover designs, deckled edges, high quality paper, or ribbon book marks. The argument goes that consumers are purchasing e-books for the convenience of reading and storing books on e-readers and publishers are trying to encourage consumers to buy a product they won’t only enjoy reading, but enjoy owning.

All right. This opens up a whole can of demonical worms to me, and seeing as every other/single line of news and conversation at work includes the economy, it’s a great topic to bring up book buying behavior. So, let’s do it.

I’ve always viewed books as an investment, a resource, and something to be used and owned. Seriously, I’m building a library. However, I’m not the consumer that these publishers are aiming at. Because most of the books I buy are used. I’d love to buy new books all the time to support authors, publishers, and economy in general. But I just can’t. And it isn’t because I choose to buy other things instead. Books are the first thing I spend money on after bills and food. But lately I struggle to get passed the food step to have extra money to buy books. And when thrift stores sell books I want for 50 cents, well, used it is.

I cherish books I’ve bought used, especially beat up, ex-library copies with crinkled covers and a billion marks. I prefer paperback for fiction – more space for more books. A couple books in our collection are fancy hardbacks with a bookmark. But honestly, I want to buy simple paperback versions I can write in when I actually read them. To me, using and owning a book isn’t having something pretty on my bookshelf. It’s what’s inside that I value.

So, as much as I’d like to say that all this Bedazzling books to get people to enjoy owning them is utter superficial donkey donuts and real readers don’t judge books by their covers and people that do probably have “War and Peace” and the Bible on their mantles but have never opened them – I need to put aside my judgment and think about this.

I understand the holiday season fast approacheth (Oh, wait. It’s here.) and there are going to be a lot of consumers acting on emotional impulses to buy products. A person looking for a book to give an avid reader will want to buy a nice book that looks interesting and special, not a wrecked discard from the Platt County library. Also, a reader who has a gift card or a little extra money to spend on books/a book to treat him/herself will probably go after a nicer, new book that attracts their whimsy. Not something they HAVE to read or doesn’t spark their interests at all. Enter deckled edges and a textured cover jacket.

I also understand that hardcore fans of a series, author, or particular book may want special editions or higher quality books that they will keep on the top shelf or pass on to someone else in grand condition.

And yes, interior design and physical aspects of a book as a piece of art are important. Reading a physical book is an experience that stimulates the senses. I’ve smelled all the books in my collection, and I’ve seen readers or fiction, poetry, non-fiction, and text books alike getting euphoric over the scent in between the pages. Just looking at the Harry Potter font brings back all sorts of ideas, memories, and emotions. Books are and should be beautiful.

However, I see some problems with using shiny dust jackets as a way to promote consumers to buy books. The article attests that while some publishers are trying to keep prices of books down, many of these new releases do come with a higher price. A quote in the article from a publisher said that customers would probably pay a few extra dollars for a nicer book. I can see this in some instances, but not all.

The main goal with these fancy books is to combat the dollars going toward e-books. But I think the lower price of e-books, especially in fiction, can be just as persuasive as convenience and storage. Personally, I’ve only downloaded free e-books. (But I buy books with loose change at the thrift store, so I realize my consumerism standpoint is a bit twisted.) It’s been shown when retailers like Amazon put bestselling titles on sale for .99-2.99 then sales of self-published books of those prices go down. Yes, consumers have an eye out for fancy paper… but a lot also have their eye on the price tag.

I’m not saying to not pay attention to cover design and layout – that’ll be another blog post. But to me, a good book at a decent price is what I’m looking for. I love Dover thrift editions and there are many mass market paperbacks that have nice covers, a clean layout, and stand the test of my time reading it, lending it, and going back to it for my notes.

Ultimately, I believe flashy, blinky, glittery books will make some sales, but overall won’t increase readership or book buying. For the people that will buy books the most, a book should be consistent, nice on the eyes, and a moderate price. As the article says, “Something worth buying and worth keeping.”

In summary: Just make sure the paper smells good. It’ll be sold.

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