Monday, June 27, 2011

Times are Changing

I spent the weekend stalking the elderly and assessing their book-buying habits. What did you do?


Okay, so, I wasn’t stalking them, per se—actually, I was just sitting in a lawn chair, helping out at my sister’s garage sale. It wasn’t my fault that the older, more mature women tended to gravitate toward the huge box of paperbacks near me. I hadn’t gone out of my way to eavesdrop on their conversation.  

Of course, I did eavesdrop on their conversation. I couldn’t help it. It went down a little something like this:

Image by Eastlaketimes
WOMAN #1: I know I shouldn’t be buying these. I hardly have the space at home for them, but they’re such a good deal.

WOMAN #2: Have you ever seen one of those electronic books?

WOMAN #1: Yeah, my son got me one for Christmas, but I can’t figure out how to use it. I’m sure it’s pretty handy, once you get used to it.

WOMAN #2: What I just can’t figure out is why their prices are lower than regular books.

(This is the point where my significantly less stealthy sister interjects, explaining how e-books work and where to purchase them. I continue to pretend I’m counting change.)

WOMAN #1: Huh. Well, I’ll take these anyway. I won’t be fiddling with that thing for a while.

As if that wasn’t already a wealth of demographical information, I heard two similar conversations later that morning. What does that mean? Well, it seems like the Silent Generation and the Baby Boomers are wading into the ongoing e-book revolution—and not just in the cold, black-and-white of nationwide studies anymore. These people are your parents, your grandparents, your neighbors, and your friends. Most of them haven't fully adapted to the technology yet, but they’re definitely getting curious. 

I’ve read that, by 2012, America's 50 and older population could reach 100 million. If you’re lucky enough to have these distinguished readers in your target market, it might be time to consider their changing needs. Imagine, for example, a lovely older woman on a fixed income. She might prefer to read the less expensive, large print edition of your book on her new e-reader. Guess what? That's not going to happen if she doesn’t know how to access it.

Maybe it’s time to look into ways of better educating our potential readers. We can’t assume everyone knows where and how to buy the electronic forms of our books. What can we, as writers, do? Add (non-condescending) step-by-step instructions to our websites? Our newsletters? What do you guys think?


Anonymous said...

My mother received a Kindle last year for Christmas and ended up giving it to my brother. She is an avid reader and has a room lined with bookcases. I don't think she'll ever go "e" but I don't mind as long as she continues to read, period.

Carrie Butler said...

E-reading is definitely not for everyone. I'm with you, Bryce. As long as she continues to read, more power to her. :)

Laila Knight said...

Great topic! All the elderly I know, actually anyone over 50, still seems to prefer traditional paper novels. Not everyone is e-book savvy. How can we help them? If we put the info on our websites that still doesn't mean they'll find it. The entire world seems to assume the everyone has internet. That is simply not true. Old folks on a budget don't bother with it. Can we just stick it under the back cover somewhere? (Available in e-book. Follow these easy instructions.)

Carrie Butler said...

Laila, I LOVE that idea! I think having instructions under the back cover would be a great practice. Yes, yes, yes! :) said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JeffO said...

Good post, and interesting points. While I'll agree that the trend is older people are going to be more resistant to change, we're all different. I have no cell phone and no desire to have one; I don't want to read books on a computer screen or kindle or palm pilot, etc. My wife, on the other hand, is a total gagdet girl and has been devouring e-books lately. My teenage daughters don't text, don't facebook, don't use any of the social media except for e-mail, and we had to force cell phones on them (a necessity borne out of crazy conflicting schedules). I've got aunts and uncles in their seventies who are quite well-versed in the latest technology. Go figure.

I think it does come down to making this stuff as accessible and easy as possible, but the newest technology is often going to be a tough sell to the older crowd.

Carrie Butler said...

I agree with you, Jeff. In the end, it all comes down to accommodating those differing preferences. For the people who are curious about this technology, we'll have to make it easily accessible and understandable. For those who aren't, we'll have to continue providing equal, unbiased attention to tangible options. Something for everyone, I suppose. :), I saw your original post via e-mail before it was removed. You made some good points about differing perspectives. I guess this is just something we'll all have to keep at the back of our minds, for now. Thanks for stopping by! :)

Jeff King said...

This post looks familiar!
I love “real” books, the feel, the smell, the disconnect to the busy world… and all the screen watching.

I am 35 and don’t think I’ll ever go to a screen to read a book—unless it’s my own during composition and revisions.

But to each their own, whatever gets you reading is a good thing!

Carrie Butler said...

@Jeff K: Me too! Then again, that just might be the fact that I can't afford anything else right now. ;) Thanks for stopping by!

Cheryl said...

Ok I'm an over 50 (just) baby boomer, and I was resisting the ebook temptation but having seen two friends with ereaders I'm definitely starting to get it. My biggest concern, as a writer, is the royalty side of things when you look at the sales price. Are we thinking more will read the books and that will make up the difference? Maybe - time will tell...

Angela Ackerman said...

Interesting. It seems to me that the 50+ demographic falls under two types--people who love technology and will go out and grab all the gadgets to stay on top of it, and those who like things to be simpler and 'old ways are better anyway'.

Congrats on surviving a garage sale! LOL

Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

Carrie Butler said...

@Cheryl - Absolutely. I'm sure royalties will always be at the backs of our minds--especially as e-books continue to rise. You're right. Only time will tell. Let's just hope it's favorable. :)

@Angela - I agree with you. There will always be that divide between those who adopt technology and those who don't. Here's to hoping we can accomodate both of them. :)

Haha! Thanks! I wasn't so sure I would survive the haggling, at the time! ;)

Patrick said...

This was very insightful. I know an older gentleman who bought a Kendal a few months back and loves the thing.

Another thing I would think would be popular with older people is books on tape. If they can't see very well it still gives them an option to experience your book.

By the way, my dad loves books on tape. *Shhh*