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How Do You Buy Books?

There are two kinds of book buyers: Hunters and Gatherers.

Hunters know exactly what they want. To them, it’s just a matter of browsing to Amazon or walking into a Barnes & Noble, picking the book and paying for it. Simple and quick, it’s over faster than you can read the dust jacket.

Gatherers (of which I am one) are browsers. They stroll into the bookstore perhaps looking for something to read, or just to see what’s on the shelves. Does anything pique their interest? What are the new releases?

I think people can be both Hunters and Gatherers depending on the motive or intention. I’ve Hunted for books before, although that’s rare because the huge backlog of books ensures that I always have something of interest to read. But sometimes I do look for a newer book because either (A) others I know are also reading the book and I want to be part of an impromptu book club, or (B) I want to finish a series for which I do not yet own the book. As an example for case (A), we have Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson. This was most definitely an impulse buy fifteen months ago, mostly because everyone else was on their way to a book signing to buy a copy and get it signed by the author. But as of right now, I have little desire to read it; it’s too daunting. An example of case (B) would be Foundation’s Triumph by David Brin. I had set a goal way back to read all of Isaac Asimov’s robots and foundation books (originally by Asimov and related by other authors) before the new millennium. Sure, it’s a geek thing, but hey, I’m a geek (or is it dweeb? Damn, someone really needs to tell me the difference). I achieved the goal but only because I had to Hunt for the Brin book to go along with all the other books I gathered. It’s like some innate ability allows me to adapt my shopping technique in order to consume more books.

I recently found that I am not alone. Others adapt their shopping technique as well. Are they Bibliophiles (or bibliomaniacs?) too?

I believe that most of the people I know are Hunters – they know exactly what they want. But what comes first, the need to hunt or the appearance of a target? Do they feel like reading a book and look for a recommendation? Or is it that they heard of a book and want to read it?

For Gatherer John, part of the fun of books is the browsing, stumbling across a good find (usually at a used bookstore – older sf appeals to me more than lots of the newer stuff). No, it makes no logical sense why I would continue to Gather when I already own more than I can read in my lifetime. But I do get enjoyment not just from reading a book, but from finding it too. So there.

About John DeNardo (13013 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

9 Comments on How Do You Buy Books?

  1. Hunter or Gatherer of Books?

    SFSignal: How Do You Buy Books? John at SFSignal talks about the Hunting (looking for a specific) versus Gathering (looking to see what’s out there) styles of buying books. As always, my thoughts on the matter are not black and…

  2. I’m most certainly a hunter. When the Locus Upcoming Releases issue comes out, I take my highlighter and mark all the books I know I want. I also mark anything by authors I don’t know with an interesting title. I also tend to watch the publisher sites for synopsis of what books are about. Finally, I usually read the first half of reviews in Locus or Asimov. I only read the first half because I am not looking for what the reviewer thought, rather what the story is about. As I am rapidly aging, I seek out specific types of SF that I have historically enjoyed. I am more likely to pick up a far-future or new-weird book than a classical fantasy or a military SF book.

    It should be noted that all of the above prep work takes up about an hour per every three months (roughly).

    With this info in hand, I usually make three or four visits to the Big Book store a year, usually seeking out a specific book. However, I save most of my book buying for Readercon (or this past year, Worldcon), as I’d rather give my cash to dealers who sell exclusively SF than to a chain.

    I only buy paperbacks with VERY few exceptions. There are a handful of authors who can coax me to pony up for a hardcover.

    Readercon (or any other con) and the occasional used book store are the only times I really browse. Browsing takes time, and most book-safaris through the big chains usually leave me empty-handed. I have made a conscious decision to excise wasted time and unfulfilling activities from my life. So far I’ve given up movies, Star Trek product, Marvel Comics, and Big Chain book browsing. I am much happier, and have more time to read.

  3. I guess I see myself as a hunter/gatherer. My quest for a book tends to begin with a targetted search for the title, and once I have done that (successful or not) I switch over to gatherer mode to see if there is anything there I might like.

  4. I’m usually a hunter, and once my prey has been eliminated, I then turn into a gatherer, browsing the shelves. Although, I’m to the point of not bothering with bookstores anymore.

    I now consider myslef to be the giant leech on John’s immense stash of unread books. Its ever so much more enjoyable…

  5. Hunting and Gathering

    John at SF Signal posits There are two kinds of book buyers: Hunters and Gatherers.

    Hunters know exactly what they want. To them, it’s just a matter of browsing to Amazon or walking into a Barnes & Noble, picking the book and paying for it. Simple …


    Eoghann from Solar Flare, in referencing this post and its sequel suggests that the difference between Hunter and Gatherer is one of quantity. To prevent any confusion (because let?s face it, the sf world hinges on the uninspired ramblings of yours truly) let me be clear:

    A Hunter knows what he is looking for. A Gatherer doesn?t know what he is looking for until he finds it. Quantity is irrelevant.

  7. A step forward in answering the Geek vs. Dweeb question: some definitions of geek.

  8. A similar discussion is happening over at The Average Joe.

  9. John said: “It’s a geek thing, but hey, I’m a geek (or is it dweeb? Damn, someone really needs to tell me the difference).”

    For the terminally curious: Wikipedia now attempts to shed some light on that enigma as it tries to explain the difference between a geek and a nerd.

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