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Why No One Buys Books

December 27, 2009

Lately I’ve been watching The Jersey Shore, and if you’ve ever watched that show or similarly disconcerting reality show imitations, then I’m sure you’ve also despaired for humanity, and realized that maybe the reason why no one is reading books is because too many of ‘those people’ exist in the world. And yet…that doesn’t seem quite right. There are plenty of educated people in the U.S., not as many as there should be but all the same enough to fill colleges and to rack up viewer stats on blogs.

Then I started thinking…do I buy books? Sure there are books I need for school, but how about on my own spare time, in those moments when I can actually read for pleasure, do I read a spanking new hardcover? Nope. I usually buy secondhand or maybe drag myself off the couch and borrow a book from the library (though honestly, I don’t think I’ve borrowed a book from a library for years), but usually I buy secondhand. The truth is, I’m able to completely satiate my reading gut simply by walking into vintage bookstores or waiting for the inevitable rectangular shaped package come Xmas or my birthday. Honestly, the only time I enter a bookstore to buy that shiny new hardcover is when I’m forced to via giftcard. And I can’t even claim that I go to an independent bookstore—my lazy hypocritical self frequents Barnes and Nobles and the independent chain’s arch nemesis: Amazon.com.

I’ve been thinking about why I don’t buy ‘firsthand’ and why I don’t buy independent and honestly, it’s because I’m cheap as hell. $10 bucks is a good amount of money to be carrying around in my pocket, and I’m not prepared to buy a book anyway when the smell of halal food is wafting from a nearby street cart (yes, I really am so easily manipulated).

And I found out that I’m not alone. “Only 40 percent of books that are read are paid for, and only 28 percent are purchased new,” it said in a NY Times article on the rise of book theft in stores. This means that many people don’t even buy secondhand; they borrow from friends, give books away, even steal them. And really, for most books, why would you buy them brand-new? Unless they’re just released, well sought after, unless your school says “do this or else,” are you really buying so many books? The reason why the book industry is suffering isn’t because fewer people are reading, since certainly we know the internet has expanded the ability for the average person to read and write, but rather that because of the economy, because of environmental activism even (where secondhand=twice as good), we’re becoming more conscious of our spending habits. A duh, I’m sure, but still semi-reassuring. Maybe the publishing business is plummeting, but at least we’re being thrifty,  or environmentally friendly, or both. Does this mean I should buy e-books now? Is that the next logical step? But that would involve buying an expensive e-reader, or worse, losing the lovely feel of dead trees between by fingers, the lovely waft of late night reading in my nose.

Problem is, us aspiring authors don’t really care about the environment when faced with the lovely utopia of published pages devoted to our own writing. Is that a problem? Probably. What do you think?

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