When It Comes to Books, Rediscovery Trumps Discovery

In Discussion by Edward Nawotka

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.

About the Author

Edward Nawotka

A widely published critic and essayist, Edward Nawotka serves as a speaker, educator and consultant for institutions and businesses involved in the global publishing and content industries. He was also editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives since the launch of the publication in 2009 until January 2016.