Over the last couple of months I've seen a lot of discussions online about discoverability. How to book buyers discover books they want to read? Do they use tools? Do they read reviews? Is discoverability a problem? And, of course, there are always discussions about whether or not finding a book one wants to read actually leads to purchasing that book. Then you add book blogs into the equation and people start to question whether book blogs sell books. I kind of feel like people aren't asking quite the right question. I feel like people are asking if online book discoverability -- via book blogs or otherwise -- leads to book purchases when the question should be does book discoverability lead to book purchases in a measurable way.
I've been around the book blogging sphere for a fairly long time. I've been blogging here since 2005 and I was reading book blogs before I started doing it myself. It's rare that I buy books I haven't first discovered online. It's very rare I buy a book that I haven't been convinced to buy because of a book blog. Book blogs are not my exclusive source of discoverability, but they are the primary reason why I read or buy books. I appreciate that I can follow a book blog for years and get to know a person's likes and dislikes and how they compare to my own. When certain bloggers say a book is good, I trust their opinions and it gets added to the list of books I want to read. Likewise, there are bloggers who may say that they didn't like x about a book and I know I'm going to love it. I trust people's opinions, even when they don't fully coincide with my own.
But that doesn't mean I immediately rush out and purchase the book. I don't click on a direct link within a blog or a website and purchase the book. It's simply not how it works for me. Quite often months will go buy before I purchase the book. The path to purchase -- especially if it's fiction -- often involves a stop at the library before I plunk down money on a book. Let me use some examples.
I first read about Susan Elia MacNeal's Mr. Churchill's Secretary via the Scandalous Woman blog. I knew from reading the review it was a book I would totally love. I made a note of it. I didn't buy it. I didn't even add it to my library list because I was totally swamped at the time but I remembered it. A few months passed and when I saw there was a signing at for the second Maggie Hope book, Princess Elizabeth's Spy, at BookExpo America I had to go. I stood in line and got my advanced copy signed. I still had not read the first book. In fact, I didn't read Mr. Churchill's Secretary until the end of that summer and when I did it I got a copy from the library. After I finished it, I read my advanced copy of Princess Elizabeth's Spy.
My family is big on Christmas lists so I added a copy of Mr. Churchill's Secretary to my wish list. I received it. That's sale #1 from that blog post eight months earlier. While it is true that I did read the book through the library first, had that option not been available to me I would have purchased it because the blog review had convinced me I would love the book (which I did). In January, I bought copies of both Mr. Churchill's Secretary and Princess Elizabeth's Spy for a friend. Those are purchases #2 and #3, which can all be traced back to my reading a post on Scandalous Women the previous April. Is there a way for the anyone to track that? Nope.
Another example is Rick Riordan's books. My friend Denise had mentioned the Percy Jackson books many times. I believe the first time was around 2006. Denise kept blogging about the books and I kept paying attention but I didn't pick up one of his books until 2009. Yep, it took me more than three years of Denise regularly mentioning them on her blog before I read them. I proceeded to read all of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians books from the library. Then I bought the five book boxed set. Then I read all the Kane Chronicle books from the library. I bought the box set, bringing it up to eight purchased books. When the Heroes of Olympus series started I didn't even bother with trying to get the book from the library. I bought them all and to do I'm now up to 11 purchased books from that author. Is there any way to tie those books to when I discovered them? Nope. Would I have read the books had my friend not blogged about them so many times online? Maybe. Maybe not.
I am not buying a lot of physical books right now because there is currently not enough space on my shelves for the books I've already purchased. When I do buy books, it's usually e-books and I average a couple of those a month. I don't know I could point to a novel I've bought in the last several years that I haven't discovered online and I'm not sure there are any a book blog did not to sell me, albeit indirectly. My nonfiction purchases aren't so cut and dry. I impulsively buy history books, especially if they are WWI and WWII histories, and they skew things. However, if you remove my impulse history book purchases from the equation, almost all of the non-fiction I've purchased also comes via book blog recommendations.
For me, and I suspect for many others, the normal path from discovery to purchase isn't as simple as see a book on a blog, click a link and Bam! My path is twisty, full of turns, frequently slower than a tortoise, and involves lots of library detours. I don't purchase books in a way that's usefully measurable to anyone. I don't even always remember which blog I found the book on, I often just know that I read a really good review of it on a blog.
Book blogs do sell books, but in my case the way in which they do it simply cannot be measured. I don't believe I'm alone. I think a lot of you are with me and walk your own slow, twisty trail to purchase. But maybe I'm wrong.
How do you find books? How does discoverability turn into buying?