Saturday, May 28, 2016

#4 and #5 Reader Motivations for Buying a Book

MUST READS and IMPULSE BUYS Reader Motivations

This week I've been talking about reader motivations for buying a book.  I've hypothesized these as the top five internal motivations for buying a book.

Top 5 Reader Motivations for Buying a Book
1.     Instant gratification of entertainment
2.     Hooked on book idea, buy and save for later
3.     Teach me something
4.     MUST read
5.     Impulse buy

My previous three posts talked about #1, Instant Gratification of Entertainment, and #2, Hooked on book idea, buy and save for later.  and #3 Teach me something. Today I'm discussing the final two motivations. #4 MUST READ reader motivation and #5 Impulse Buys. I'm putting these two motivations in one post because these are the two in which the author has the least marketing influence.

MUST READ: These books fall into several categories. My personal “must read” books are ones assigned by a book club I participate in. They read across all categories from fiction to non-fiction, popular best sellers and local authors. 90% of the books chosen are books I would have never picked up on my own. The second group of "must read" books for me are non-fiction books that I believe will help move my career forward. These tend to be about the business of being an author and publisher. There is always something new to learn: a new technology, a new marketing approach, a new trend. 

Many readers are motivated to purchase a "must read" when there is social pressure to read something.  In other words, books that everyone is talking about—the latest bestseller, the latest critically-acclaimed or award winning book. I equate this to the need to socially participate with other readers, or not to feel left out of the conversation. These books will get purchased quickly (50 Shades of Grey is a good example of this). Whether the reader finishes the book or not, she wants to have read enough to be part of the conversation, to have an opinion. These books get a lot of velocity and, if it generates significant controversy, can have a long tail for a year or so. This applies equally to fiction and non-fiction. 

Another book type  that falls into the MUST read category are what used to be called the “coffee table book.” That is the book that makes you look smart or hip. The book that you want everyone to know you read. This might be a Pulitzer or Nobel prize book. It might also be the most revered book in your career field or political circle or religious environment.  These books are called “coffee table books” because they often aren’t read but are there for show. Or, depending on the readers social circle, are read enough to give an opinion like the example of a popular book above. 

Authors writing the “must read” book have little control over whether their book takes off.  If publishers knew what needs to happen to make this book, it would be all they buy and something they do every time. I think it is a combination of great premise, controversy, acceptable prose style, right topic at right time in the zeitgeist, and a good marketing budget. In any case this book requires best-seller status or multiple revered awards. 

IMPULSE BUYS:  I include this because almost everyone I talked to admitted that a couple times a year they buy something for no reason other than it fit the mood or need at the moment. I suspect that the impulse buy might happen in any of the five reader motivation categories. What makes it impulsive is that it is outside of the reader’s normal purchasing habits. For example, if I normally purchase “beach reads” to take on vacation, my normal habit is the instant-gratification-entertainment buyer.  However, if on my vacation I’m are hit with three days of lousy weather and will be cooped up inside a cabin, I may go looking for something longer and more complex. I may end up buying a 400-page thriller or a 500-page epic fantasy. 

In the reverse, if I’m normally a fan of books with cross-genre leanings and complex worlds, I might choose to buy several “beach reads” when I go on vacation as a backup plan to days I’m not running around doing things. These books may not get read at all if all my days are sunny and I come back to the hotel exhausted. In this scenario my instant-gratification short books could end up never being read and lost in the bowels of my e-reader.

My latest impulse buy was The Best Places to Pee, by Kelly Melillo. I was at an author reading, supporting a friend and Kelly, a beautiful and well-dressed woman, was one of the five authors there. I was struck by the topic, the fact it was delivered by this very classy woman, and that it was about bathrooms in Portland, Oregon. I just couldn't help myself; I had had to have it. 
In many ways this book meets several of my reader motivations: 1) It's quick and fun, instant gratification; 2) The topic was so outrageous I had to have it; and would probably refer to it again and again; and 3) It is a teach-me-something book. I live in the Portland area. Choosing restaurants and bars based on their interesting bathrooms is an interesting take on the world in a very Portlandia sort of way. 

Like the teach-me-something and must-read buyers, authors have little control over regularly capturing this impulse-buying reader. This is not someone who is likely to be a rabid fan for your genre. This is not someone who would normally be looking for your book. The only way to grab this reader is to make sure you have all the right discoverability elements in place—great cover, good blurb, accurate metadata, good reviews, so that when the mood strikes they can at least find your book. Oh, and a catchy or quirky title helps.

What is your latest MUST READ or IMPULSE BUY book?

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