The Development Editor’s Role
Author Blogs -- Pros and Cons

Book Buying Decisions

Have you ever thought about what goes through your head before you purchase a book? Are you a “destination buyer” or an “impulse buyer”? Do you search out a particular author? Do you risk making a purchase simply on what you may have read on a cover or an Amazon description/review? Are you influenced by reviews on websites, blogs or in major magazines?

Before I share my buying habits, let me first explain the difference between a destination buyer and an impulse buyer. The destination buyer is one who is looking for a specific book or type of book. Maybe you want the latest Grisham novel or a book on Windows XP. You’re going to a store or a website with a particular book in mind. Contrast that with the impulse buyer who is browsing around when something catches their eye. They aren’t necessarily looking for a book on Lou Gehrig, but the one on promotion gets their attention. Although they didn’t plan this purchase, the price was right and it looks like a great story.

I’m a destination buyer almost 100% of the time. I rarely wind up buying something I didn’t originally set out for. I’m also highly unlikely to buy a book without some sort of recommendation. That advice might come from a magazine review or word-of-mouth from a friend. On rare occasions I’ll let myself be swayed by several strong Amazon reviews.

I also use one other tool for some of my purchases: Bestseller lists. Like most people, I’m curious to see what others are reading. If I’m not that familiar with the topic area or I just want to see what’s hot, I’ll look through Amazon’s top 25 to see what’s selling. This approach probably only produces 10-20% of my overall purchases though. Even when I notice an interesting title on a bestseller list I generally wind up Googling it to see where it might be reviewed and what people have to say about it. The point here is to get away from all the noise on Amazon and see what other people/sites have to say.

How does this match up with your book buying habits? Does your checklist look considerably different?



Hello Joe, let me say I have 2 places where I buy books: in the shop and online (sometimes Amazon). Mostly I go to Amazon for a specific title and mostly add some titles to my shoppingcard because of advises by other readers. In the shop I buy more impulsive. But my tast for books is great: literature, history and management. That will add up to a lot of money every month so I started the were I do reviews on business/managementbooks. In my choices in selecting books from publihers (from Amazon, catalogues and newsletters) I'm a “destination reviewer”, although I ask my contacts to send me "adventure" books with the question to surprise me. From these I get the most joy because they lead me into new fields.
Because that's what impulse buy can do surprise you! These books I give myself as a gift and when I feel to discover something new, I give one to myself.

Prashanth Rai

Well, My method to books buying is as follows,

first the book needs to show up on my radar , this could be because of people on the blogsphere/ like the CEO Read/ Tom Peters (Whats tom reading section) so on, one it does show up i go to amazon and see if i can read some excerpts of the book (inside book section)or look around the web to read about the author if i dont know enough about him/her , including readin some articles about the book, well this works really well for me as i read only management/personal dev/autobiography kind of books.

One of the other ways of gathering information about books is to read blogs about the books the one never eat alone has...(

Naba Barkakati

Joe, I start out as a destination buyer on Amazon and add to the list only if needed to get the “free shipping over $25” :-) Most of my “destination buying” relates to information that I need for something I am about to do - - for example, a travel guide to a destination I am about to visit or a book on retirement because I heard its praise on the radio on the drive back home (is that destination buying driven by an impulse?) As far as deciding the books to buy, I search on Google (often Google Groups), go by people’s recommendations, or base it on reviews in magazines or newspaper. Come to think of it, my checklist for buying books seems similar to yours.


We discussed this very topic over at SF Signal not too long ago, although I used the terms "Hunters" and "Gatherers".

Simon Heap

Joe, I'm a destination buyer 90% of the time the other 10% I used a limited selection impulse method...I may browse a topic area for titles from my favourite authors.....

PS great to see the my publisher is moving with the times (ISBN 1740310659)

Kathy Sierra

I use Google and online forums if it's on a specific technology, but if I'm in the store, I also give a lot of weight to the quotes on the back cover (or inside the front). I've heard other people don't necessarily put so much stock in that, but for me--it matters a LOT (and that goes for everything from novels to tech books). If someone I trust or respect puts his/her recommendation out there, I tend to trust that. But again, I've heard others say that they're suspicious of quotes. I also give a lot of weight to Amazon reviews, but I pay a lot more attention if the book has a *lot* of reviews rather than, say, only a small handful of five-star reviews. A lot of reviews means a lot of passion around the book, and more data points to validate the star-rating (and less likely that the overall rating is being seriously tainted by "fake" reviews), but this applies more to computer books, and of course to books that aren't brand new (and haven't had time to build up a body of reviews on Amazon).

Joe Wikert

If nothing else, this once again shows how we’re all wired a bit differently. Some of us truly value reviews and endorsement while others are more skeptical. Kathy raises a great point about the number of reviews. Amazon does a nice job of showing the number of reviews on the book page itself (e.g., “4 stars based on 18 reviews”), but shouldn’t they do a better job of it on their search results and bestseller lists? Unfortunately, they only show the average number of stars for these pages and include no information on the number of reviews. Maybe they could just change the color scheme on the stars for the books with more than 10 or 20 reviews. For example, books with fewer than the minimum would have a different color for their stars to set them off from the ones above the minimum – that would at least make them easier to distinguish at a glance.

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