Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Suburban, Urban, Gas Guzzling Book Mama

I have less than ten minutes to write this, but in an effort to not phone it in and actually keep up with the wonderful points y’all bring up in the comments I had to post. On “For Love or MoneyChristine said:

“I'm not sure if you're located in a big city or not. If you are, consider the commuters who take the bus, subway etc. I'm one of those, and I'm still buying as many books and other media as I did before. I don't suspect they'll be affected as badly as those who do drive. However, I imagine if you are located in surbubia, there will be a higher loss.”

Very good point. I have worked in suburban areas and I’m sure that they may be hit harder than the urban stores when it comes to people choosing gas over books. Currently I work in an urban area surrounded by a transit mall, many commuters, and yet I’m still seeing a change in book buying habits. This is perhaps why I’m worried more because if they are restricting during the week (and their commute) what are they doing on their weekends when they visit their suburban stores (which many of my customers tell me they do)?

I do try to think happy thoughts as Robin (a smart lady whose blog you should visit) pointed out:

“So yes, gas prices are horrendous right now. People are freaked about their money. It's ridiculous what it costs to commute to jobs that still pay what they did when gas was a more reasonable $2.00 a gallon(ha!). But people need books. People need to escape. They crave it like they crave sugar and caffeine. So while there might be a downturn in book sales for a while, it won't last forever. Meanwhile writers should keep writing, book sellers should do what they can to keep putting books into people's hands, and let's all just keep breathing and wait for the cycle to turn.Happy thought for the day.”

But I remain worried. I don’t remember where I read this, and I really don’t have time to search for a link, but it used to be that in times of economic downturns book sales went up. A book lasts longer than a movie, dance night, etc, the way of thinking went. But in our last economic oops, booksales did not show the dramatic increase expected, and one of the reasons given for that was the pervasiveness of the internet. People are spending more time online (admit it, you could actually be reading a book instead of reading this), more time playing video games and more time watching TV, all of which results in less books read.

And that’s when my stomach gets that unhappy feeling.

So I ask you, do you think the other opportunities for escapism (videos, movies, games, the internet) cut in on your reading time? Is it something you even consider?

Yes I know that asking book people that probably isn’t the best idea, so I’ll add this on as well:

For those of you who commute into cities, do you find your urban shopping habits (when you have to take the bags back to work) differ from your suburban shopping habits? Or have you noticed this quirk in others around you?

I’ll post more on this later…

(And by later I mean hopefully before the end of the year.)


Bethany K. Warner said...

I don't own a video game system, don't have cable and don't have internet at home. I have plenty of time to read (save for when my cat decides the best place for him to stand/sit/sleep is on top of whatever book I have open.)

Martha Brockenbrough said...

I think Bethany touches on something. There are always more things to do than there is time to do it in.

Books are at a disadvantage these days because the Internet and usually accessible very quickly, as is TV. You have to plan ahead to spend time with a book. eBooks might eventually catch on, but I'm guessing through a different delivery mechanism than the computer. The price also has to be a lot lower. I've seen eBooks for the same price as hardbacks. Please. Ridiculous.

The books that do best seem to be those that become cultural events (Harry Potter, The Da Vinci Code). How something becomes a cultural event is a head-scratcher. Newspapers certainly haven't helped. But they're in trouble, too.

It's possible that publishers could get clever about marketing online, tapping into that always-on channel and inducing people to make impulse purchases. But without instant delivery, this is only going to work so well. TV, after all, is instantly gratifying (as long as you have the good sense to watch "Veronica Mars.")

If I were a bookseller (ah, secret dream), I think I'd want to get customers to subscribe to book packages -- anything to get them to commit to making regular purchases. I don't know. Romance of the month club, with a chance of getting a year's worth free. I think the key is nurturing reading/book buying habits, because habits are what determine how we spend our time more than anything else.

Robin Brande said...

Martha has a great idea--getting customers to subscribe to book packages like Romance of the month club. Make every sixth book free (or something like that). Also, make the bookstore the place to meet--food, comfy chairs, a regular monthly meeting of the romance, YA, SF and other clubs. Maybe that's too much to ask (of the store or the customers), but I like Martha's idea in general.

Eileen said...

I would go without food before I would go without books. I get the heebie jeebies just thinking about being cut off. I find books more immediate than TV. (this could be in part due to the fact I always have a stack I mean to be reading so I don't need to go out to get one.) I might turn on the TV at anytime-but the show may have already started, nothing good may be on etc. A book is always ready. It's portable, never a re-run,and never has Paris Hilton, TomKat or other celebrity I could care less about involved. All bonuses.

mk said...

I prefer to take public transportation, but I've had to drive at least 3x per week for the last 2 years, a minimum of 40 miles to the city and then back again. My book buying has increased as a result, as there is a used bookstore about midway through my commute (if traffic is especially hideous, I go to the bookstore and wait it out). Since I'm having to take my car anyway, I've been attending more meetings of my knitting group, and both locations are in malls with big chain bookstores. Gas prices are breathtaking, but I'd rather do things like get a small coffee drink instead of a large (or use my travel mug more often) and let my hair get a little shaggier between haircuts. I'm a regular user of the public library but I manage to spend about the same amount of money in bookstores anyway. Considering some of the library fines I've had to pay, sometimes I'm better off going to the bookstore.

Scribbler said...

I'm new to reading your blog, and I just want to let you know that I will never stop buying books. I can justify my purchases because I'm a writer, and they can fall under the category of research.

Research aside, I have reading lists for every season, and while I watch Law & Order and Scrubs, I find books more gratifying. There's a lot more audience interation in reading: I get to decide the exact location of the protagonist's sexy mole, or exactly how wide a wide nose's as much my world as it is the characters'.

I am jealous of booksellers being able to be around books all the time!

lady t said...

TV can be distracting at times-some nights are better for me to read than others simply due to nothing being on that I must watch(my must watch list includes Veronica Mars,Smallville,The Office and The Amazing Race). That doesn't keep me from reading several books at once and/or gettting more.

Recently,I signed up with BookFree(thanks to a link at Smart Bitches)to borrow books rather than buy everything that catches my fancy. It's a great program-thanks to BF,I'm catching with Kelley Armstrong's Women of the Otherworld series.

bookstore girl said...

I actually am a bookseller, and I find I do most of my reading at work (we're small, its summer and things are slow), so I enjoy fiddling on the internet and watching tv in the evenings, because it gives my brain a break. My store has not yet suffered from high gas prices, because we happen to be in a very affluent residential area. It's populated by rich former hippie types who, lucky for us, feel the need to support small business.