I buy and read a lot of books. I buy books because they look like they’ll contain interesting historical biographical information, or will tell me about society or technology in historical times. I buy books because I think they’ll help me with research. I buy a lot of memoirs because it helps put me in someone else’s head, which helps me when I build characters. I buy romance in several subgenres, both to examine craft and to examine the market. I buy fantasy and science fiction to examine world-building (which is important for historicals, too). I buy thrillers to see how best-selling authors pace action scenes. I buy a ton of young adult to see what the zeitgeist is for the next generation. (I also, of course, have a lot of fun reading all of this, too.)
But my point is that if you are a bookseller, you should love me. I spend money on books like it’s going out of style. I buy electronically. I buy in print. I buy online. I buy in person. If you sell books, I buy them. I spend more on books in a month as I spend on my dog. And because I’m doing taxes–and because many of my book purchases are tax-deductible–I know how much I spent on books in 2010. I’ll tell you this much: it’s easily four figures, and it’s a lot closer to $5000 than it is to $1,000.
I think the breakdown of where I spent that money is interesting.
The numbers skew paper because (1) if I do giveaways, I want a paper book; and (2) many research books I prefer to have in paper copy so I can spread them out on the desk as I work, or mark passages or write on the edges. I mix up my e-book purchases so the e-book purchases are spread across Amazon, All Romance eBooks, Books on Board, Powell’s, and eHarlequin.
55%: purchased online
45%: in a retail store
Again, the number skews to online purchases because, for instance, if I want to track down “The Municipal Government of Bristol: 1820-1851” I usually am going to find it online. The 20% difference between electronic and online purchases is pretty much that: purchases of research books that I’m getting for a specific purchase. But just to give you some idea of how much I spent in retail stores, we’re still talking four figures, and by a good margin.
Here’s the last set of numbers I’m going to give you:
At what retail outlets did I spend my money in 2010? (This is a further breakdown of the 45% figure above.)
Barnes & Noble: 48% (there’s a B&N convenient to the place where I work)
Borders: 34% (I try to spread the love around anyway)
Target: 11% (I end up getting books every time I buy toilet paper, too)
That’s 93% of my purchases. The other 7% are made up by airport bookstores, the occasional purchase of books at conferences, and…
Independent Bookstores: 3.5%
Yeah, that’s kind of surprising to me, too. I like all bookstores. There’s a reason I wrote a webscript that generates automatic links to indiebound and two prominent independents along with the major chains–I believe that a vibrant book marketplace depends upon the health of all bookstores–large chains, discounters, and independent bookstores. I don’t want any piece of that to go away.
But you know what? Even though I spend thousands of dollars on books–in the young adult section, in science fiction and fantasy, in biography and history and memoir–I generally don’t go into indie bookstores because I also buy a metric ton of romances, and there is no indie bookstore near where I live that carries romance. It’s not that I’m boycotting indies, or even that I’m trying to send a message. It’s just that when I feel like browsing for books, I want to do it somewhere that has all the sections I like to browse in. If you don’t carry the primary genre that I read, I’m naturally going to spend my time–and therefore money–elsewhere. I want to love you, indies, but you just don’t have what I need.
When I break that 3.5% down even further, another interesting statistic: 3.3% was spent in person at Powell’s, while 0.2% was spent at other indies.
This is interesting because I don’t live anywhere near Powell’s. But Powell’s has excellent romance curation, and so when I go in I know I can spend three hours and browse every kind of book in the entire world and buy a massive armload of books from all sections. If I lived near Powell’s I would just have my paycheck direct-deposited into their coffers to save time. It’s a giant magnet for me: it has so many books, and I want to walk out with all of them.
I know this might not change any minds. But if you run an indie bookstore and you don’t carry romance, be advised that you’re losing out on more than the dollars you’d make on the romances. You’re losing browsers.
Disclaimer: These numbers are rough. I’m still gathering receipts. They also *ahem* underestimate my spending, because there are some receipts I ended up not scanning at all because the books had no business purpose: cookbooks, for instance.