Poll results: Why you bought your last book, and where you bought it

By Kathryn Lilley

So last week I ran a (very unscientific) poll about book-buying habits, and here are the results:

Poll #1: When you purchased a book recently, what was the MOST important criteria for you?

More than 50% of the voters said they’d most recently purchased a book by an author they’d previously read, and liked.

“Tried and true” seems to be the guideline for people buying hardcover books. They don’t want to spend $26 dollars on someone they’ve never read before, and who can blame them?

This result would suggest good news for established writers, not so good for debut authors. In the comments, however, people indicated that they sampled new authors from libraries and second-hand vendors, opening the door to future sales of books by those writers.

Poll #2: “The last time I purchased a book, I bought it from…”

A majority of people (30%) purchased their last book from Amazon. Not a promising result for bricks-and-mortar bookstores, or for authors’ or publishers’ profit margins.

I’m going to leave the polls up there, add new ones, and report back from time to time with updated results. I’m undertaking this polling because I’m frustrated by the dearth of hard data about consumers’ book buying habits. (And if that data exists, someone please point me to it!) I’m tired of the standard answer of “nobody knows anything.”

This week’s conclusions

Debut authors can’t count on robust hard cover sales. If a publisher wants to get a debut author’s career rolling, I suggest they include free e-books of debut authors with books by similar, established bestselling authors, to get the reading public familiar with the new writer. After a limited free e-book distribution, the publisher can charge for the next book and future versions of the debut novel. This approach would mean that publishers would have to look for writers to support over the long haul, not just a one-book wonder.

Don’t feel too envious of “established” writers, though. If you think that life is easy once you hit the NYT list, check out this post by bestselling author Lynn Viehl. She actually posts her royalty statements and gives a good insight into the tough career that is known as authordom. It’s an exhausting climb, even for those standing (at least momentarily) on the peak.

My other conclusion of the week is that Amazon is eating everyone’s lunch.

But then, we all already knew that. Didn’t we?


10 thoughts on “Poll results: Why you bought your last book, and where you bought it

  1. I missed the poll, but it looks like I’d be in the minority. I never buy books from Amazon. I buy most of them from Mystery Lovers Bookshop.

  2. This confirms the one rule you can count on in this crazy business–reader base and loyalty are built book by book (they’re also lost that way).

    Thanks for doing the poll, Kathryn.

  3. Oh bless you, Joyce, on behalf of Indie bookstores everywhere! You can still take the poll

    Jim, you’re right about the book-reader building business. Somewhere I read it takes an average of 10 books before an author has a “breakout” book, which means that the author has been slowly building readership until it hits critical mass.

  4. Thanks for conducting the poll, Kathryn. The good news is that the results are exactly what was expected, and the bad news is that the results are exactly what was expected.

  5. Great poll, I look forward to the next one.

    Just to throw out the question, how do movie studios get folks to buy DVDs when the movie has already been in the theaters, available through Netflix, stix/brix rentals, etc.

    Retail DVD sets often (actually usually) include bonus material not available in the other venues. Behind the scenes, extra commentary, deleted scenes, collectibles, etc. These sets often command premium prices.

    Y’all think that would work with hardbacks? A special foreward from the author, maybe some unique artwork, an audio version or ebook included as a disc? I know this is done occasionally, but I’m not sure I’ve seen it advertised that way.

    The straight up readers go for the paperbacks, the collectors go for the premium edition.

    Just throwing a couple of pennies into the pool.


  6. I think that’s a brilliant idea, Terri! One could include any of those things to sweeten the pot, and the way things are going, looks like we may have to!

    Another thing that would be interesting is to include “author’s first draft.” Kind of like the director’s cut. Only I don’t know how many authors would be willing to expose their unedited prose, lol.

  7. The Booksmith in Brookline Ma is my bookstore of choice because:
    -Nice Bookmarks with every purchase
    -Located strategically between Peets & Starbucks
    -Complimentary Giftwrap service
    -Used Book section downstairs
    -Last Purchase this past Sunday, Lost Symbol by Dan Brown.
    It always feels great to help a struggling author.
    Next Purchase – Howdy Doodie, Man or Myth.

  8. Terri, thanks for posting that link. I wonder if someone’s going to assemble the stories about the hunt for book snippets! Would be an entertaining read.

    Anon, you’re nice to help out Dan Brown. He is indeed struggling. Struggling to keep up with his cash flow, I’d imagine. And I predict that Howdy Doodie will be a breakout book. šŸ™‚


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