Saturday, 6 June 2009

Book Buying - Elen Caldecott

A poet friend of mine recently told me that a bookshop considers you a ‘heavy book buyer’ if you buy six books a year. Now, I don’t know where she got that figure. Sorry. But, I’m just going to happily accept it as the truth for the purposes of this blog entry – if you know better, please let me know in the comments!

But SIX books a YEAR? I looked at my friend and thought of her house – where the books have to be stored two deep on the shelves – and my flat – where the gap between doors and walls, that is usually just dead space, is piled high with books. SIX books? I buy that many in a month, I thought!

And then, I wondered whether that was true. I READ six books a month, easily. But do I actually BUY them. And, if I do, who gets the money?

As a fairly unscientific survey, just out of curiosity, I found the last six book I had acquired and looked at their provenance.
They were as follows:

Breathing Underwater by Julia Green – bought from Waterstones
Guantanamo Boy by Anna Perera – borrowed from the library
Puppet Master by Joanne Owen – borrowed from the library
The Behaviour of Moths by Poppy Adams – borrowed from the library
Tam of Tiffany’s by Dorothea Moore – bought from Amazon
Marketing your Book by Alison Baverstock – bought from Amazon

So, three library books.
Two bought online.
One bought from a high street chain.

So, even someone who scoffed at the idea of a mere six books a year (me) has only bought one from a real, actual shop recently. And that was a chain.
I felt a flutter of guilt. I know writers make more money when you buy their work in a shop. I know dedicated book buyers are the lifeblood of independent shops. And yet I haven’t bought a book in an independent shop in a long while.

This is partly because there isn’t an independent book shop in central Bristol (or even suburban Bristol as far as I know!) and partly because buying online is so easy (the library books are like buying online because I place a reservation online and get an email when the books I want are in).

What I need is an independent shop I can browse through online. Or for someone to set up an independent shop in Bristol (good people of Bath, come on, you’ve got loads of them, hand one over!)

But what I really need to do is to put my money where my mouth is and pay more attention to my buying habits from now on. There’s still a bit more space behind the bedroom door.
Elen's Facebook Page


Anne Rooney said...

SIX a year? I bought six this afternoon! Amazon is real buying as long as it's not from a re-seller as the writer still gets money. As for the library... if only. Cambridge central library has been closed for rebuilding for years and now our local village library is closed as well. I did wonder if it was the work of the bookshops.
There is a difference, though, between buying books in a particular edition (I have a penchant for the old orange penguins, for instance) and buy buying books just to read. Am I allowed my orange penguins even though they have to be bought second hand? I console myself with the thought that at least most of the authors are dead so they aren't losing out.

Elen Caldecott said...

Oh, absolutely!
One of the books on my list (Tam of Tiffany's) was printed in 1918. I think my copy is about 1925ish. It's long out of print, which is a crying shame. So, second hand purchaces of publishing treasures is very much smiled upon!
And what a shame about your libraries!!

highschoolteacher said...

I get my books exclusively from libraries, and don't feel guilty. My wife or someone buys me about 1-3 books a year, in full disclosure. I keep my library books late and end up paying the library about $100/yr. in late fees, also "sans guilt."

J. said...

Although I'm probably a 3 books a month person (for myself, if you were to add on books I buy for my children, that would be about 6), I can easily imagine the average figure is 6 per year, I have lots of non-bookish friends who would only think about buying a book when thinking about something to read on the sun lounger on holiday.

I don't use libaries as my local ones are awful unless you really like Barbara Cartland and war stories.

There also aren't any local independent book sellers near me either, even though I live in a major retail destination, I buy from Waterstones or Amazon. It's always been a dream of mine to open an independent book shop specialising in children's books (I used to work in a small independent book store when I was younger), I mentioned that to friends once, all who lived locally, all with children and their eyes all lit up "You have to do that! It's just what this place needs!" but I don't think it'd be anyway commercially viable, the commerical rents in my area are too high and their are two major chain bookstores, so I'll continue dreaming.

Megan said...

Hello there!
Found your blog via The Pitch at How Publishing really works.

Interesting post - I'll def be back!

Six a year is insane. I can't believe thats all!

But looking at your breakdown, I see that that may be the case.


catdownunder said...

The cat is prowling in to look. Six books? The humans in this house would buy more than sixty. Every bookshelf is double stacked - and the bookshelves take up most of the wall space. They scarcely have enough money left to keep me in cat food!

Barb said...

Imagine being constricted to six books a year. I think a piece of me would die. Books, like chocolate, need to arrive in a constant and steady flow.

HelenMHunt said...

Six a year sounds shockingly low. Just found you via the pitch party.

dan powell said...

I am a UK ex-pat and as such have to buy from Amazon or I couldn't get hold of most of the books I want from German bookshops.

Definitely by at least 6 books a month so it must be folks like us who bump up the average.

BTW- found you via the pitch party at How Publishing Really Works. :)

Lucy Coats said...

6??? SIX???!!! I am obviously atypical, abnormal, and an addictive personality who needs serious help with her book buying problem. I was such a good customer of Amazon in the beginning that they used to send me Christmas presents! My book collection numbered over 10,000 at the last count. I keep having to build new shelves.... Of course, most of them are bought in the name of 'research':-) That's what writers do, isn't it?

Lucy at

Loren Eaton said...

Although writers love to eat just like the rest of us, there's something I think they want more than people buying their books -- people reading them. I know quite a few self-professed bibliophiles who never read their purchases; instead they squirrel them away to gather dust under the guise of collecting. That's why I subscribe to The Middle Shelf.

Brian Clegg said...

I'm up there with the loads-a-year brigade, but the 'six a year' doesn't surprise me at all as an average.

According to a Channel 4 documentary a few months ago, the average house contains (excluding schoolbooks) less than 10 books.

Elen Caldecott said...

It isn't an average!!
It's what makes you a 'heavy' bookbuyer.
Which makes me think that the average number of books bought in a bookshop by your regular joe must be 0.28 a year or something. Which just blows the mind!

But do remember I got this statistic from a friend!

Anonymous said...

Good grief... I stagger in here from the pitch party, slightly the worse for wear, and you hit me with that number! I can't imagine being restricted to six books a year. I'll quite often get through that many a fortnight.

woah, just caught a glimpse of Maximum Bob hiding behind the comment window - now why didn't I know that was Elmore Leonard? I remember the tv series a good few years ago. Must toddle along to Amazon to see if I can get hold of a copy. Dammit, there goes my book-buying budget for the month, again.

keep up the good work - I shall subscribe to your blog...

cheers, Pip

Anonymous said...

I'm a bookseller in my other life (have worked chain and independent) and agree that 6 books a year is the statistic for 'heavy' book buying.
Trouble is of course that most of us who read loads can least afford to buy loads... :) so we buy second hand and go to the library. Such is life.

Jan Jones said...

Borrowing from the library is good, good, good. It keeps us in PLR. It proves to publishing houses that we 'issue well'. It boosts library statistics and keeps them from being shut down by nasty council bean-counters.

Of course, buying from independents is good too.

(PS - wandered in from the pitch party)
(PPS - six books a year is a joke. Has to be.)

Marie-Louise Jensen said...

Wow...six a year.
My kids and I buy easily that many a month. And that's on top of library borrowing and the proofs I'm sent to review. In fact sometimes between the three of us it's more like six a week...
And they ALL get read.
Some from amazon, some from Waterstone's and some from independant booksellers. That puts us up there with Lucy in the 'needing serious help' bracket.