Friday, August 16, 2013

Your Mom Has a Discoverability Problem: A Reading Life

If you're on the bookternet, chances are you've heard the term "discoverability." On Twitter, it more often presents as the "discoverability problem," with publishers lamenting about how hard it is to get readers to "discover" (re: buy) certain books. This is, of course, ridiculous, and if it is a real problem, it's the publishers' and not the readers'. All you have to do is look at the world's top earning authors for 2013  to see that people are still buying books by the truckload- just maybe not the books publishers want us to.


Fact is, no reader that I know has a problem discovering what book to read next. There are thousands of years of classics to catch up on, not to mention last year's best seller or whoever-you're-obsessed-with-right-now's-backlist. I might not get around to paying $25 (or whatever) for the new Dave Eggers  while it's in hardback, but that doesn't mean I have a discoverability problem. It means publishers should stop pushing the same old shiz and expecting the reading world to suddenly develop more publisher-guided reading taste. We're fine over here, reading our reads like gangstas.

But with books.

I thought back over my adult reading life (defined as the period starting when I began buying my own books) to see if, at any point, I had an issue with discoverability.

High School: I bought books by the boxful at used book sales and library book sales, mostly Penguin Classics/Bantam because I knew those would be good or were in some way important. I read a few modern books (Speak, Perks of Being a Wallflower) and looked out for books by the same authors and publishers. Discoverability problem: nope.

College: Book buying habits pretty much the same, book tastes evolved to more obscure classics, the lesser-known works of my favorite authors, and recommendations from friends and professors. Discoverability problem: I'm sorry, what? I can't hear you over the sound of all my friends telling me what to read.

Early-to-mid-20s: Still frequenting used book stores and library book sales, with the occasional spree at Barnes and Noble when they were selling their classics at buy one get one free. Discovered book blogs, found a few I trusted, started visiting indie bookstores for modern new releases. Discoverability problem: Sorry, still can't hear you over the sound of all these book blogs typing and shit. So. 

Mid-20s-to-now: Library book sales are still my jam, mixed in with indie bookstores and the occasional B&N download to my Nook. Getting recs almost exclusively from book blogs and Twitter, along with picking upcoming releases that sound interesting from Edelweiss. Since my stable of modern authors I love is expanding, I'm always on the lookout for their backlist. Sometimes I just go to the library and walk around, grabbing whatever looks interesting (this is a new habit since I had kids and started frequenting library story time). Discoverability problem: EVERYONE JUST BE QUIET I CANNOT HANDLE MORE AWESOME SOUNDING BOOKS.

So, is the reader's discoverability problem real? Hold on, lemme think on it:


Nerp. And I don't have solutions for publishers about how to get x book into everyone's little hands, but this I know: it ain't our problem. 

17 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  2. The only time I ever buy new books is pretty much when I'm with my mom at Barnes & Noble. And she buys them. So...I guess the only I ever buy new books is never. (FALSE I will buy new JKR books...but that seems like a given)

    Otherwise it's entirely the library or used bookstores.

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  3. Agree. The other reference I use (which may sort of be what the publisher wants) is what an author I like recommends. Follow a few of my favorites on Goodreads and skim through their 5 starred books.

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  4. Yarp. I think the only problem is OVER-discoverability. Ya'll need to take a number, because my TBR list is getting out of control.

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  5. *slow claps* It really is the fact that readers aren't discovering what the publishers/authors want us to. I for one have no problem finding a book I want to read. If anything I have the opposite problem and don't know what the fuck to read next. It sounds more to me like a "I'm not making as much bank as I'd like" complaint rather than "I'm not getting discovered as much as I'd like".

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  6. Amen ... too many good things to be read, not nearly enough time to read them. And it's never the consumer's responsibility to make the market work for ANY business. It's the business's responsibility to figure out how to be relevant and make it work in the marketplace (or give up on being in the marketplace).

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  7. Yep yep yep yep! I can't remember ever having a problem discovering books, I just basically never buy new ones. If there's a new book I badly want to read (and it's rare that I know about them when they're super new) then I'll get it out of the library, and if it's REALLY good then I'll buy a used paperback. So basically I am the publishing industry's worst nightmare, yes.

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  8. This is definitely an issue on the publisher/author side and I think an actual problem. They need to figure out how to get discovered. Of course we on the reader side of the table are all set. We've discovered more books than we will ever be able to get through so the problem isn't on our end.

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  9. I think the problem is that no one (read me) wants to spend 25 dollars on a book. I will check that shit out of the library or wait a few years.

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    1. THIS! Yep. I'm a giant fan of the library because I could never afford to keep myself in books. No way, no how.

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  10. Brilliant and interesting post. As a fellow bookworm I have never had a problem discovering books. My twelve page Amazon wishlist is testament to that. Whether it's newspaper reviews (my favourites are the Irish Times and UK Guardian/Observer), suggested reads on Amazon, friends' recommendations, browsing in bookshops, I find books I want to read every day. I only wish I had an unlimited budget to buy them all!

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  11. Yeah, I have the opposite problem. Waaay too many books to read.

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  12. I reckon my finger just ain't on that particular pulse because I'm not really aware of discoverability being an issue in publishing.

    Personally I think publishers should put more money into their solid, mid-list authors and stop paying out offensive amounts of money for drivel in the hopes that it will be a blockbuster.

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    1. Applause for Emily.

      I feel like publishing companies need to be more diverse in their publicity instead of putting all of their money into the stunt author or well-loved writer whose books will sell anyway. We can't discover anyone new because they are plugging the same celebrities or the 24th book by James Patterson.

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    2. Yeah, unfortunately all of that publicity is in Mr. Patterson's contract, every time out of the gate. So, you know, roughly 24x a year. Seriously, when is the last time he wrote a book on his own, no co-author?

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  13. Great post! My to-read list is more than 800 books long. I think I have discovered plenty! My real fear is dying before I read them all.

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