One of my book-related goals this year is to only buy books in Australia (audio books excluded as these are not easily available in a downloadable format here and I need my audio fix). I knew this would mean I would buy less books overall as it’s always at least two times and often three times more expensive to buy a book locally than from Amazon or Book Depository but I wanted to see if I could still read the books I want to read AND support my local book shops AND not go broke. The purpose was really to assuage my guilt about the fact it’s people like me – people who fell upon sites such as UK-based Book Depository like thirsty wretches in a desert…gobbling up more cheap books than we can read after decades of being slammed with some of the highest price books in the world – who have helped to cause the closure of so many book stores in this country. If the last one does shut its doors in my lifetime I didn’t want it be all my fault.
At just over half way through the year I think it’s clear that though I’ll meet my goal (so far all but one of my book purchases for the year have been made in the brick and mortar store around the corner from my house or a local purveyor of eBooks) my radically changed habits will do nothing to stem the tide of local book store closures. Because I’ve hardly bought any books at all.
It seems that I can change the habit of wanting to read new books NOW (I’ll wait for the library or do without if it’s not to be published locally), but I can’t change the habit that makes me gasp each time I’m expected to pay more than $30 for a book I don’t even know if I’ll like. Perhaps the best evidence of the intense psychological pressure imposed by the cost of books in Australia is that I’ve had a voucher since my birthday last November that I haven’t yet spent. I’ve wandered through the store at which the voucher is valid (not the one around the corner from my house) at least once during each of the past eight months but can’t quite bring myself to part with the voucher for something I’m not sure if I’ll like (and of course the couple of times I’ve been desperate to purchase a particular book I’ve been nowhere near this store).
But enough of words…what this post clearly needs is a chart or three.
Starting simply this shows how many books I’ve acquired during the first 7 months of this year and last. For the purposes of this figure ‘acquire’ includes any method at all, including borrowing.
There’s nothing that startling about that chart but it sets a context for the next one. This one shows what percentage of books acquired have fallen into the categories of bought, borrowed, received via a gift (including vouchers) and ARCs or received as part of my judging panel duties.
The percentage of my acquisitions coming from purchases drops from 78% to 28% between 2012 and 2013 and borrowing books rises from 9% to 28% over the same period. The anomaly is of course the fact I received a swag of books as part of my judging panel duties but I did not include in that number the 11 books I judged but had already bought or read. Of the 15 remaining books that make up the 18% figure there’s only 2 or 3 I’d have willingly bought with my own hard-earned cash.
But the most telling chart of all is the one which breaks down my purchased books by format
I have purchased a whopping total of 5 ‘print’ books (i.e. eBooks and physical ones combined) so far this year compared to 40 for the same period of last year. Looking at this chart, the fact I’m buying “all” my print books locally is hardly a huge score for local book sellers. Are they any worse off than if I’d repeated last year’s purchasing patterns? I think not.
I don’t have any sort of detailed records of my book buying habits from back in the day – pre 2008 or so…before Book Depository, Amazon et al – but I would guess I bought more books than this even at our over-inflated prices. Because I didn’t know any different. Now it’s just…hard…to justify $30+ for a book I’ll almost certainly read only once and might not even like when I know the same thing is available for $15 or $10 from across the seas.
I suppose in the end I am the winner in that I am spending less money on books (and I definitely needed to reign in my discretionary spending). But I’ll still be sad – and probably feel guilty – when that last book shop shuts its doors.