Wednesday, October 15, 2014
To Buy or to Borrow?
When Amazon offered its new Kindle Unlimited program, which allows customers, in consideration of a fee, to borrow a considerable part of the library, my reaction as a reader was “No thank you.” My reaction as an author was “Hmmm.”
Borrowing is great for some people, but it doesn’t fit the way I read. I’m a long-term guy, and when you borrow a book, you have to get on it pretty quickly. If I’m considering four books and pick two to borrow, I’m likely to forget about the other two before I come back again.
So over the years I’ve gotten into the habit of buying any book I come across in the bookstore, whether brick-and-mortar or online, if I think I’d eventually like to read it. That way, I have it, and it’s in front of me as a constant reminder. I may get to it fairly quickly or not for years, but it’s there.
So Many Books, So Little Time
At the moment, I have a bit more than 120 mystery novels on my shelf or in my iPad, awaiting their turn to be read. That’s about a two-year backlog, and two years from now I expect the number to be the same or greater. I’ve accepted the fact I’m going to die with books unread, so I’m all right with that.
That does mean, however, that I have books for all occasions. If I’m ill and decide to read a mystery rather than working, I have plenty to choose from. If I’m on vacation and bad weather is keeping us inside, I know I can find something to read on my iPad. In both cases I can choose from a small number of books that already interested me, rather than looking blind through everything out there to find something that feels right in the moment. Having that sort of freedom is one of the great benefits of owning, rather than borrowing, your books.
As an author, I also prefer readers who buy, rather than borrow, my mystery novels. The obvious reason for that is that the author gets more money for a book that was purchased than for one that was borrowed. But the reasons go deeper than that.
The Case for Borrowing
Let me say at this point that I welcome people borrowing my books. That’s far better than ignoring them altogether, and a reduced payment to the author is better than no payment to the author. And there’s one other definite positive to borrowing on Kindle: It introduces a sense of urgency to reading the book. If you don’t get to it in a few weeks, it disappears. I look at borrows as a positive sign that someone is seriously ready to read one of my books now.
If that reader posts a review or tells a friend, the borrow has paid for itself by building readership. I think, though, that it’s harder to share a borrowed book than a bought one, and what becomes nearly impossible is the notion of a serendipitous read.
One of my daydreams is that some day, years from now, someone who bought one of my books will die with that book still on the shelf or in an e-reader. A dutiful child comes to clean out the possessions, and in the course of doing so, comes across, say, Wash Her Guilt Away, starts to read it, and likes it. That happened to me with a couple of books I found while cleaning out my mother’s apartment after she went, and they meant a bit more because they were hers. Never would have happened if she’d borrowed them.