Wednesday, January 16, 2013

You bought what?

By Jenny Hilborne
Author of Mysteries and Thrillers

Who has at least one item of clothing in their closet or one pair of shoes they've bought and never worn? We see a bargain and buy it, but it's not a bargain at all if we never use it. These are often impulse buys. The same thing applies to books. With so many offered free or at low promotional prices of less than $1, we're downloading more than ever before. Are we reading these books? Does buying more mean we are reading more?

I buy loads of books. My Kindle currently holds 179 items, many of which I haven't yet read. I love e-Readers for their portability, the ease with which we can take hundreds of books with us when we travel, and the fact the digital books are so inexpensive to download. Reading is easier and cheaper than ever before, and we have far more choices available to us, including genres that might never have emerged without the changes in the publishing industry. 

With new genres should come new readers, you might think. But how many new readers has the digital explosion created, or are many of them existing physical book readers who have switched to digital?

Everyone loves to get something free or at a fraction of the cost. Marketers know it and use this strategy to give us what we want. They play on consumer emotions and affect our purchasing decisions by guiding us toward products we might not be seeking. Authors offer promotions to entice readers and grow their readership. Is it working?

Does the free or low price of an eBook entice you to make spur of the moment decisions and download a book you might never have considered, or one for which you would never pay the full price? If it does, what are the chances you will read it? Do these books sit stored and forgotten in your eReader, like that pair of bargain shoes gathering dust at the back of your closet? Or does the sweet deal of a free or cheap book stir up your passion for reading?

Books are not big ticket items, so we can afford to give in to our emotions and buy based on those emotions rather than on rational decisions. If we go into a bookstore, we might take hours choosing a book, one we will pay a lot more money for and will almost certainly read. Free and cheap provides instant gratification and encourages impulse buys; quick and irrational decisions. Downloading takes seconds, and we don't even need a bookshelf to store all those books. How likely are consumers to use (read) products they bought based on an irrational decision?

EBooks continue to be popular. But are we loading up our eReaders for no reason? Many readers complain in various online forums that they have TBR (to-be-read) lists that will take them years. So, what are the chances that many of these free and cheap books will ever be read? When the pleasure of a free download wears off, do most readers forget about the book, or discover they don't want the product after all?

Does free or cheap turn you off? Or does it encourage you to try a new author or a new genre? Has the eReader increased your enjoyment of reading? Does paying less for your hobby encourage you to buy more...and does this mean you read more?



  1. For me, the issues are finding time to read, then hoping to get caught up in the story. It doesn't matter whether the book was free or cheap or top price. And I own way more print books and ebooks than I'll ever read in their entirety. But I've sample almost all of them.

  2. I struggle with finding the time, too, which is why I have so many unread books on my Kindle (I do plan to read them), plus I review for NYJB and Suspense Magazine, so have little time for other reads. I try to only download books I know I'll read, but I'll admit the free and cheap eBooks do encourage me to try more new authors than I might have.

  3. You're asking some terrific questions, Jenny. Like you, time is my qualifier. I'm not reading more, but I do seem to be acquiring more. And I'm sure, I'm finding myself with a lot more books I don't bother to finish.

    Free and cheap are beginning to wear, I think. While I've found new-to-me authors because of free promotions, I'm not sure it has the same punch it once did. What, I wonder, is the next big thing?

    I'm getting ready to leave on a road trip tomorrow morning with my dad. I'm taking the paper book I'm currently in the middle of, and my Fire, which is locked and loaded with a lot of books to choose from.

  4. Agree, Peg that free and cheap has lost some of its luster, and some of its marketing weight, tho' it still has some gain. I do download more, but if I dislike a book, I no longer feel obliged to finish it (although I try to). Wishing you a fabulous road trip, safe travels and happy reading.

  5. I'm fortunate to be a really fast reader; still I'm finding myself overwhelmed with books I want to read and books I need to read. There are books I NEED to read because I want to study how an author did something, or because they are friends' books and I want to support them. Then there are the books that just sound fun or informative or interesting that I WANT to read.

    I never download free or cheap just because they are free or cheap - and often, if my friend is offering a free deal, I'll wait until the deal's over so I can actually buy their book and pay them for their hard work. Is that weird?

  6. Excellent questions, Jen.

    My problem is that I'm a notoriously slow reader--that and my ever-limited schedule seem to make it harder to read as much as I once did. My intentions are good. I mean to read what I buy, and I think I eventually will. It just may be a few years before I get to them all. I do make it a point not to amass a lot of books. I keep it conservative.

  7. Even before the advent of e-books, my TBR pile was gargantuan. I must confess that I'm guilty of downloading a lot, but like Gayle I read quickly. And, I truly intend to read 'em all. Really.

  8. I too have downloaded many free ebooks (Kindle for PC)but first I look for the author on my library site, and put his/her books on my library t-b-r list. I find some wonderful authors that way. Dee

  9. I'm another one who's downloaded lots of free and discounted books. However, I'm finding authors I might have passed by. I love my Kindle, its portability and instant gratification is perfect for me. And now I have the Kindle Ap on my iphone, so I'm never without a book.
    I really think it's opened up new worlds.

    But I also believe the best ereader use may be for students at all levels since textbooks need to be updated frequently and the costs are so high.


  10. I don't have as much time to read as I want. Like others I'm trying to go through my print books and then pass them on to family and friends.
    My free books just sit on my ereader. I've been pretty selective on the ones I download but who knows when I will get to them.

  11. Great question, Jenny.

    My Kindle is getting a bit crowded, too, with some of those free/cheap books. I stay in-genre and am selective about what I download. At this point, my TBR backlog is less than a dozen books, which is manageable.

    Yes, absolutely, I am discovering new authors (like the group right here, in fact!), because of these offers. Some have been wonderful (again, like each of you), while others will remain half-read and unacceptable.

    These deals have vastly broadened my reading horizons. Of course, if I'm reading 'new to me' authors, they are displacing books I might otherwise be acquiring from authors I already know and love.

    You're right that it's a new dynamic, one that requires some adjustments -- I don't have any more free time for reading than I did before I owned a Kindle.

    For me, the trade-off works out if I'm thrilled with at least 20% of these low-cost 'discoveries'. So far, so good.


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