BOOK BROWSING - A LOST ART?

03 September 2013

By Julie Crisp

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libraryOkay - so I may be showing my age here but yes, I do remember the days before mobile phones, eBooks and even the Internet. My passion for books began with my dad's bookshelves and progressed to the local library, charity shops and second-hand bookshops where I'd spend as much time as I was allowed browsing the shelves for a cover that attracted my attention. There was always a frisson of excitement at picking something off the shelves, as much mystery and anticipation at what lay between the covers as opening presents on Christmas Day. I didn't have the recourse of people recommending books to me - I had to discover them for myself and it was on bookshop and library shelves that I encountered some of my favourite authors - at times almost by accident - who I still read today. And so I wonder, with the age of the internet, the immediacy of information about new releases and blogging, the less tactile experience of online shopping - whether we've lost something from the book browsing experience?

Then came the Internet, and after that social media - and let's face it - who's not addicted to that?! I LOVE social media, I'm a Twitter fiend, enjoy Facebook and like feeling tapped into different groups. The feeling of community, especially in our particular area, is so strong and social media is the perfect medium for us all to share our passions and our dislikes with fervor and enthusiasm. And so it feels like the shape of how we buy our books has changed.

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That's not to say we don't still use the high street for browsing, but I wonder whether opinions have already been preconceived or influenced before we even get to the bookshelf. For instance, publishers often release cover artwork, first chapter extracts, author interviews, cover copy - all to raise pre-awareness in a novel before it comes out. As an editor, it's great to try to get fans onboard and excited about a book as soon as possible. But in doing so have we taken some of the magic of discoverability  out of the book browsing experience? Or does the sense of anticipation in waiting to buy a book you've bought into six months ago after seeing it online offset the fact that you've not discovered it yourself on the bookshelf while browsing?

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Bloggers too can play a big part in shaping reader's opinions in books. The top reason for buying a novel is still recommendation. And with such active social media, recommendation tends to come from trusted bloggers and reviewers. As publishers, the more people we can have talking about books the better so having an online community so passionate about books and willing to share their opinions about them is great. But I'm curious to know whether with the saturation of information, have we all taken the fun out of book browsing? Or have we just shortened the odds in ensuring that in our hectic lifestyles, we have a better chance of picking up a book that we know we'll enjoy rather than finding one we think we might enjoy?

It's a natural progression and one that's been happening for years as technology has evolved. We've seen a much faster transition in the last few years because of the increased usage of social media, online bookstores and  the onset of the eBook revolution. Buying a book, experimenting with different genres, getting recommendations - it's never been easier.  And while I love that, and enjoy seeking out new books in this way, call me old fashioned but something in me does miss the time spent browsing in those stuffy old bookshops for the gem that will open up a whole new world for me. I don't know whether it's the physicality of it, the nostalgia or the harkening back to a time when I actually had time to do that. But I do miss it. What about you? How do you go about buying your books?