Saturday, April 21, 2007

How do readers choose new books? Part One

Fans of bestselling authors make a beeline for their favorite writers at the bookstore, hardly pausing on the way from tables stacked high with the latest and greatest to the cash register. But sometimes another John Grisham, Nora Roberts, or Danielle Steel isn’t quite what you’re in the mood for.

When browsing through the stacks of novels at the local bookstore, how does a customer choose a new author? Marketing research firms spend thousands of dollars trying to determine consumer behavior and ways to manipulate that behavior.

Have you ever watched customers meandering through the aisles, picking up one book, perusing the cover, then selecting another? Why do they select any one particular book?

We conducted an unscientific survey to see if we could find out. Most readers, even when selecting a new author, will stay within their favorite genre, whether romance, mystery or thriller.

Word of mouth,or recommended by a friend was the factor most often mentioned as the number one factor. Some books are simply so memorable that readers become anxious to tell their friends about them. Publishers spend millions of dollars on advertising, book tours, etc., but one of the most powerful forces driving a book’s success is basic grass roots, one-on-one word of mouth.

Readers told us:

“Someone tells me about a book they really like, so I try it. If I like it too, then I pass on the information as well as looking for other books by the same author.”

“I buy a lot of books based on comments made on one or two online book groups where we post our reads for the month. Again, I particularly note comments from people whose tastes I know are similar to mine.”

“How do I select to read books by a new-to-me author? Almost totally from recommendations from people I know. In this case word of mouth sells. If I hear enough people raving about a new author...I will get the book.”

The cover either entices or detracts. Cover art was most often mentioned in the number one or number two spot. The importance of the cover is reflected in the enormous amount of time and effort publishers and authors devote to designing the cover, often going through dozens of variations before deciding which one is perfect (they think).

Another interesting aspect of covers is how successful ones are imitated. Just look at how many recent chick lit novels feature bright colors, highly stylized lettering and cartoon type characters.

Don’t judge a book by its cover doesn’t ring true with most readers.

They told us:

First, I look at the cover. If it has a half-naked woman, I put it back.”

“I take my books with me to read while I'm waiting and I'd rather have a nice scene on the cover.”

“If I'm just looking through the shelves, the cover catches my eye first.”

“It's the cover that will attract me pick up the book.”

But not every reader feels this way.

“For me, the cover has no effect on choosing a book.”

“I do most of my book shopping online. I rarely buy in the store. Having said that, the cover does not sway me at all.”

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