Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Some consumer feedback

I (finally) did some Christmas shopping this past Sunday, and as always, I enjoy giving books as presents. Believe me, this has nothing to do with “flying the flag”. I just think that books make terrific gifts.

I always buy my crime fiction at Toronto’s Sleuth of Baker Street, in fact, if I’m not in a rush, I just order any book I want through them and drop by to pick it up when it comes in. This year, though, I’m nowhere near close to that organized!

So I was in our local Indigo bookstore, browsing around for the people on my list. Then it hit me: what a great opportunity to do a little first-hand research.

I went upstairs to the Mystery Section and watched seven people shop (6 females and 1 male). All checked out the tables in between the C-shaped bookshelves of the section. Two of the people picked one book off this table and were finished. Four of the others also browsed the shelves. Two people bought several things. The last person bought 3 copies of the same book.

I stepped forward after each was finished, explained that I work in the publishing industry and wanted to ask a few question if I could. (I thought it would appear very tacky to say that I’m an author).

Here’s what I found out:

* Person 1 (female, middle-aged): She bought one book for her sister because she liked the cover and the copy on the back looked interesting. She glanced at the opening page as well, but only briefly before making her choice.
* Person 2 (male, around 30): bought a copy of a Tom Clancy book for his father because “Dad likes Tom Clancy.” He also thought he’d read the book before he gave it to Dear Old Dad.
* Person 3 (female, maybe 25): She bought 3 books, all different. One was a book for her grandmother “who loves Peter Robinson”, and the other 2 were for her mother because she thought they looked like something her mom would like. She liked the cover on one which is what led her to picking up off the table. The other one was because she’d seen a book by this author on her mother’s bedside table.
*Person 4 (female in her 60s): She bought 3 copies of the same book (forget what it was) because she absolutely loved it and wanted to give it to her sister-in-law and two friends. She thought the cover was terrible. (I agreed.)
*Person 5 (female, middle-aged): Hadn’t planned on buying any books. Was just in the store to get a coffee and stopped on the way out. She bought a copy of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo because she’d heard so much talk about it and was going to Cuba for the holidays and wanted reading material. She really liked the cover -- even though it has little to do with the book itself.
*Person 6 (female, middle-aged): She had an organized list and found 2 of the 3 books she wanted. She doesn’t read mysteries at all, but her daughter loves them as does her best friend. The third book was for her aunt and wasn’t in the store. I sent her to Sleuth...
*Person 7 (female, “I’m 83!”) Was looking for a book for her niece who “loves mysteries”. She picked out a book because it looked interesting. I asked why, and she said that the cover made her pick it up and the inside flap copy was “intriguing”. That was Nevada Barr’s 13 1/2. This nice woman also said that she never buys books where the author’s name is really large. “Those books are always disappointing”. She said that unbidden by me.

What does it all mean? Well, people are buying books, and the response to a good cover seems to at least get a book “in the door” with the buyer. Most people enjoyed looking over the books on the table and picked from there, because something made them look at the book in the first place. (Three recognized authors names and chose because of that.

None of these people had electronic readers, although the 83-year-old really hoped that her niece would give her one for Christmas. The male’s wife had one and he occasionally uses it to read the paper (he said he had little time for reading) and one woman had a daughter who owns one, but she “didn’t like it”.


Dick Hannah said...

Great post!
I too have watched other shoppers and tried to reason out why they picked the books they did, but I love the fact that you took it a step further and did some "on the ground" research.
I once read and article that touched on a similar aspect of bookstore markeitng. I wish I could find it, but on the other hand I'm glad I can't . . . I found the conclusions rather specious. The writer argued that new authors should pick pen names so as to maximize their chances of being put on the top shelf at the bookstore. I reasoned then and still do that this is rather arbitrary in that Dick Francis could be on the top shelf at one store and at the bottom of another.
Nevertheless, I enjoyed hearing about your interviews . . . I hope you do more.

Dick Hannah

John R Corrigan said...

Fascinating. Great stuff, Rick.

Rick Blechta said...

Well, part of the reason I did my impromptu study is that I design book covers for (part) of my living. I asked a lot more about that then I reported here — and learned a lot that I will certainly use. RendezVous Crime who publish my novels are also kind enough to let me design my own book covers (I'm working on one right now), so it was also a bit of "self-help".

In fact, it was worthwhile enough that I'm going to do it a bit more.

The downside was that several people assumed I worked for the store and asked me where all sorts of things were. I also had to keep a weather eye peeled for store employees. I'm certain I would have been asked to leave.

It was interesting and worthwhile, though.

Vicki Delany said...

What an interesting experiment. Thanks for doing that, Rick.

Donis Casey said...

Fascinating stuff.