The Quest for Books

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I was interested in the results of a Goodreads online poll listing responses to the question “Where do you usually buy books?” — interested for two main reasons. First, for the fact that physical books were clearly still very much popular; and secondly because a good third still rely on their local bookshop for their purchases.

True, internet giant Amazon accounts for a hefty quarter of the total, though since many other online booksellers do some business through Amazon that seeming exclusivity may be mitigated to some extent. The category “online, elsewhere” is clearly a catch-all though: does ‘elsewhere’ include charity shops, shoplifting, housebreaking, book piracy, secret presses and so on?

Local bookstore 31,674 (32.3%)
Amazon 26,230 (26.7%)
Online, elsewhere 21,583 (22.0%)
I don’t. I have a library card and friends who like to share 17,903 (18.2%)
Direct from the publisher 732 (0.7%)
As of 3rd January 2016 98,122 total votes

Source: https://www.goodreads.com/poll/show/112459

A total of nearly a hundred thousand responses is not to be sneezed at, and I’m guessing fairly representative of English-speaking book buyers. I’m also heartened by the numbers of those who borrow or share books, especially where public libraries are concerned. As I’ve recently noted, over the last year a quarter of books I’ve read have come from the library. Over the same period I’ve only acquired four books online, not tackled yet because only purchased just before Christmas with Amazon gift vouchers; it’s actually exceedingly rare for me to order anything over the internet.

The rest of 2015’s reading comes from a total mix of sources — borrowed from friends or family, bought from charity shops or genuine book outlets, and rereads from my own bookshelves. Years ago I used to get review copies direct from a British publisher of scholarly Arthurian titles, but that fount has long since run dry; this year I’m aiming to include a handful of independent titles sent to me for review.

Every reader is different, of course we are. But though I’d like to think that many, perhaps most, of the followers of this blog would plump for buying their books at their local bookshop (if such a one indeed exists for them) I suspect the results may yet surprise me. Feel free to input your response here — but don’t delay, the poll closes in a week!

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20 thoughts on “The Quest for Books

  1. I’m afraid I do buy almost half my books over the internet. We haven’t got a local independent anymore. I can’t resist a rootle around any such shops I find on my travels and usually emerge with an armful. The majority of internet books are from independent sellers (either through Amazon or eBay). For the last few years I have been making a determined effort to read all the books that are already on my shelves. Am also a lifelong library user and have more library cards than bank cards. I didn’t do your poll as I’d have to tick every box except direct from publisher. Regards. Simon

    1. That’s the real conundrum, Simon, isn’t it, for those who like to browse physical books (in a bookshop, a library or on a friend’s shelves) when that opportunity is denied because of its absolute absence. Are you comforted by the ability to ‘virtually explore’ the book on Amazon or is there no real substitute for the sensuality of handling and seeing (maybe even smelling and hearing) the actual book before purchase?

      I know what you mean by being unable to complete the poll — I’d find it hard too to decide one over the others.

  2. The local bookshop just nudges it for me, but even that is a chain, not an independant. I used to buy a lot of discounted books from The Book People and a few from Amazon, but as a hopeful author, I’ve seen the error of my ways and have gone out of my way to buy from a ‘proper’ bookshop. It may be more expensive, but it means the author will get their full cut of earnings and it supports the local economy, even if it is only through jobs as the takings go to some huge company somewhere.
    I do love a second hand book, though. I’ve bought a ton from charity shops and market stalls over the years. But again, lovely though this is – recycling and all – it also denies authors earnings.
    To my shame, my library visits have declined as my local library is tiny and rarely seems to stock books I’m interested in.
    Interesting post Chris – and your poll seems to back up your initial thoughts.

    1. I haunt secondhand book outlets too — great for the odd obscure title, out-of-print book or long-sought-after edition, but like you , Lynn, recognise the need to help support living authors.

      Yes, it’s looking as if my hunch was correct but it’s still early days yet!

      1. If we spread our book pound around a bit, we can try to support everyone a little, I suppose 🙂 I don’t know if the poll would reflect the general population, though. I suspect your blog attracts those of use who think about how we purchase our books, where the money goes etc. Many people merely turn to Amazon for everything, unthinking.

  3. I’m not sure how to answer as I don’t know where I buy the majority of my books. I do try to patronize local and independent bookstores but I also buy a fair amount online. I try to avoid Amazon but I use AbeBooks a lot which is basically the same thing. And I use the library a good deal as well — I don’t buy most of the books I read. So just put me down for “All of the above”!

    1. Ah, Lory, sadly the poll doesn’t allow muliple choice! It’s a silly question anyway, I suppose, or at least only a shapshot of one’s book acquisition at any one time. I’ve only recently started borrowing library books in any great numbers because (a) there’s one near where we’ve moved to and (b) there’s an adequate choice; before that, for a decade and more, it was more usual for me to buy books.

      Similarly now with purchasing books: I buy fewer secondhand books from charity shops than formerly, buying or ordering from a bookshop just up the street where I now live; before that it was a ten or dozen mile drive to get to any bookshop at all.

      I’m going to nail my colours to the mast and say that — currently — I borrow more books than I’ve bought over the last year. Next year? Who knows? We may have no library …

  4. I seem to be in the minority, which makes me happy. See, I purchase the majority of my books through Amazon, only because we have no local bookshop in Carson City.
    However, the majority of my reads come from the library. To me the questions is “to buy or not to buy”. Having acquired a large amount of books over the years, and culling through them last year, I try to keep my purchases to a minimum. I’d rather borrow books and buy only those that the library does not offer. Between the library and its small used bookstore, I can usually find what I am looking for, but yet I still find myself scrolling through Amazon titles now and again.

    1. It’s sometimes good to go against the flow, Sari! I totally get why you shop for books through Amazon — I did add the proviso “if one exists” to my guess that many if not most readers would plump for buying their books at their local bookshop — so presumably your answer would be “needs must” in the absence of viable alternatives.

      But if a decent enough library exists (and lucky you to have a used bookstore, better than none) then I’m not surprised you’re happy to borrow books; it’s what I’m currently mostly doing.

      1. I should have finished my thought. I am glad to be in the minority only because it means the majority supports their local bookshop. 🙂 I’d be happy to do it to if I could.
        Yes, my answer would be needs must.

        Some day I hope to move to a town that has at least one local shop, then I could stroll instead of scroll.

        1. “Stroll instead of scroll” — great phrase! Yes, if only all towns were civilised enough to have a physical bookshop within easy reach of all. As Neil Gaiman wrote, “a town isn’t a town without a bookstore. It may call itself a town, but unless it’s got a bookstore it knows it’s not fooling a soul.” Our bookshop displayed this quote prominently when our High Street was threatened by the presence of a branch of a national convenience store: http://wp.me/s2oNj1-bookish

  5. I used to do a lot of library borrowing, and also sold many of my own novels to City libraries who would put them on display at the beginning of the financial year for the various chief librarians to select.
    Now, the supply of new titles has dwindled, many of the old favourites have disappeared, and the door has closed to indie suppliers due to a new policy of only buying through certain distributors – who don’t want to know.
    Depressing.
    So it is back to the bookshops for me.

    1. O brave new world which jettisons anything that may have intrinsic worth and supports only that which is seen to have monetary value. I wish you success — despite the odds, Col.

  6. Books are so stupidly expensive here in New Zealand, I tend to buy novels and beach reading type books at the charity shops, as a normal paperback which would sell new in the UK for around £4 would be £12-14 here in NZ. Specialist books I get shipped over from the UK or US via Amazon. Have not got into E books, which would be much easier, but I prefer the physical contact with a book, especially an old one, where you can see previous owners corner turnings, and notes written in them.

    1. I suppose the cost of importing books to NZ would account for some of the mark-up, but I’m surprised that Australia, which seems to have a flourishing publishing industry, doesn’t have a greater impact on its neighbour’s book market. And surely NZ publishes and prints its own titles too?

  7. As an aside the library service here is very good, but somewhat odd, new releases are not allowed to be borrowed for the first 2 weeks, and then there is a charge of $6 for 2 weeks loan, it’s not free to borrow them until they are a bit older.

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