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When It Comes to Books, Rediscovery Trumps Discovery

By Edward Nawotka

In today’s feature story by Otis Chandler, the founder and CEO of Goodreads, he points out that when it comes to book discovery, “once is not enough.” Unless you’re simply a compulsive person, you need to run across a title multiple times before it will stick and motivate you to buy it.

Tattered Cover Bookstore in Denver, CO

Today, in the age of hand-wringing, angst-ridden discussion about the future of bricks-and-mortar bookstores, this is the most important lessons retailers can learn: when it comes to books, rediscovery trumps discovery. What’s more, I believe it leads to greater single transaction sales.

To wit, when shopping online, you are faced with so many options — to buy, save it to a wish list for later, share it through social media. Everything you might ever want is there, but at the same time, there’s no urgency to buy — well, because it seemingly will always be there for you.

A physical bookstore is somewhat similar, in so far as when you make the effort to go to a store, it’s no doubt for a particular errand. Something motivated you to make the effort. The urgency is often (but not always) implicit in your having made the trip.

The best bookstores know how to take best advantage of this. And no, it’s not by putting cute impulse items up near the point of sale — all bookstores should be able to sell you books and items you didn’t even know you wanted. The best bookstores are those that have books in stock that you didn’t remember you wanted when you walked in in the first place. These are books that you’ve already committed to buy in your head at some point in your past — whether it is because you read about in a book review, heard about it from a friend or “discovered” it online.

When that happens, you might walk into a store to buy just one book, but you’ll likely walk out with two or three more more. Rediscovering a book is a far stronger motivation to buy than merely discovering one. Why? You’ve already gone through the decision-making process and made the commitment to buy, and the resistance to making the purchase is psychologically minimal. Yes, online sites do everything they can to make a purchase frictionless — “one click purchasing” is perhaps the best example of that — but in these lean, economically conservative times, when it comes down to it, memory trumps impulse.

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  1. Posted March 12, 2012 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    The title alone of this blog says it all. Bob Mayer said Sustainability Trump Discoverability.

  2. Posted March 12, 2012 at 11:46 pm | Permalink

    Online, you can find any book you already know you want. In a real bookstore — especially one that sells USED books — you discover wonderful books you never even knew existed.

    When we only shop for books we already know, our reach is limited by what we already ARE. Serendipity among the bookshelves lets us grow in ways that mere intention never can.

  3. Posted March 13, 2012 at 12:30 am | Permalink

    Thank you for nudging me into recognizing a personal habit. I often note a book or scan a review long before I actually open it and add it to my library. The one caveat to this rule tends to be yard sales where the previous owner’s presence and lifestyle are often on display. By the way, this “familiarity trumps novelty” theme also partially explains how several copies of a title enter my office.

    Finally, allow me to close by quoting Thoreau: “Read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them at all.”

  4. trishjw
    Posted January 3, 2013 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

    The writer above talking about used book stores and book shelves in general leading to serendipity is a point that too many publishers and book reviewers seem to forget. It’s not that it was reviewed–only– but that one can’t find it later–weeks later–many times. That time span can be a problem since often readers are tied up with other books they “have to read” for what ever purpose but they also wish to read “that book.” Yet when the reader finishes off one or more previous books, he/she has trouble remembering the name of the book or author. When that happens, he/she can’t find it on line. This requires much more exposure by the author and publisher but also those lists kept by the reader so he/she can find it or at least recognize–aha!! That’s what I was looking for. Plus all those other books by other authors that the reader never heard of but the book or title is enticing. I have a stack of books I am reading, a new stack to start off the new year with once I finish an old one–Bird without Wings about early 20th century Turkey–and I have a pile of slips of books and authors that I saw in book warehouses that I want to read but haven’t had time or money to get them all. Etc. etc etc.
    More books of fiction reviewed is one thing I keep looking for and do not find too often in the magazines and journals of literature I read. The editor may keep that in mind. One of the biggest complaints about present review magazines online or on paper is the presence of 80% non-fiction books in the review and 10% fiction–maybe–and 10% of thriller/mystery book reviews. The fiction included are often repeated in each of the review sections. The repetition may help expose those that only read one review but not those that read a variety but keep seeing the same old books reviewed. Non fiction is often this way also but not as much since some review sections are quite small. Good luck.

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