Monday, January 17, 2011

Are we losing the gentle art of browsing?

Last week, I took the boys to the local library for a meeting of Mr7's Summer Reading Club. As they sat down together and made mobiles from a paper plate, some tin foil, a stencil and someone else's endless patience, I took to the grown-up section for some serious browsing. It's been ages since I did this. Mostly I'm in there with two boys, one of whom wants me to read Spot books and the other who wants to drag me through the 'big kids' section in search of Encyclopedia Brown books. Not a scenario that makes for comfortable browsing.

This day, however, I had free rein to wander each shelf, muttering under my breath (as I do every time) that it would all be so much easier if it were divided into 'crime', 'romance', 'Australian authors', 'etcetera', as the bookshops are. I picked out nine books. Five of whom were written by authors whom I knew and loved. Four were not. Chosen simply because I liked the cover. Or the blurb on the back.

This got me thinking about online shopping, which is, I confess, my usual method of buying books. As with most things internet, there's no browsing. You have to know what you want to find anything. Think about it - it's difficult to waft around any shop online, as you would in a real-life retail space. You know you want a wrap dress, and that's what you look for. You probably even know you want a Leona Edmiston wrap dress. And yes, online shops deliver them in your size, all in a row. But there's no room for your eye to be caught by the pretty top in the corner. Or the belt and earrings at the register.

Impulse purchases are the bane of many a person's credit card existence, so I guess I should be happy that temptation is taken away. But I do think we miss out when we can't browse.

A story in last weekend's Good Weekend magazine asked the question 'Can the book survive?'. The upshot of the story, by Nikki Barrowclough, was that e-books, with their instant, efficient, easy to carry appeal, are the way of the future, but that they will not, in the opinion of most people interviewed, replace printed books entirely.

The more time I spend online, the more my Luddite aversion to e-books fades. I love my printed books, and will always buy them, but for someone like me who reads voraciously, there is a lot to be said for cheaper books and being able to carry around more than one without lifelong back problems.

As a writer, on the other hand, nothing beats the thrill and satisfaction of holding a book, a real life book, with your own name on it. Emailing one to your friends will not, I suspect, feel the same.

But back to browsing. One thing my library experience reinforced was the willingness to try new things when they're put in front of you (and yes, I concur, that's easier when they're free). When you search for something online, you get taken directly there - that's the joy of it. But in arriving at your destination in one fell swoop, you miss finding the B roads - those lazy, winding detours that can present stunning scenery and unexpected country pubs.

So it is with buying books. How many wonderful authors and stories might you miss out on because you took the information super-highway?

What do you think? Do you find you browse for books online, or search for specific things? Does it matter?

{image: via}


  1. I look forward to the day I hold a print copy of your book in my hand. I must admit I love reading books. Actual physical copies. But having even my mother rave about the wonder of the kindle has got me thinking there must be something in this new fangled technology. I'll get to it, just as soon as I finish reading my book.

  2. It's catch 22 for me. With certain censorship laws, online is a godsend in my neck of the woods but I'm like you, I LOVE to hold a book. I also find my brain gets a bit fried after using the laptop to blog/write/tweet/facebook/email blah blah blah, it's nice to look at paper rather than a screen sometimes.

    I realize I've given you absolutely no definitive answer..but there's my ramblings for what its worth.

    Is online the death of the book, unfortunately I think it might be.


  3. I am a bit of a recovering hoarder. There are two things I won't let go of - my books and my CDs. While I love that I can access any book or CD I want to online (through downloading or online shopping), I resent the thought of only being allowed to read or listen while plugged into one space, that being the laptop.
    I can take my book anywhere, it doesn't run out of batteries, it survives the coffee spill, its there as soon as I open it up ... can't beat a book IMO. I think the online book will lead to a population of curved spine individuals with TERRIBLE eyesight.

  4. Interesting stuff- as usual. It probably won't surprise you to know that I'm a Luddite (the lack of a mobile phone often gives me away). I have only twice bought books online, and that was to support specific initiatives by Booktopia. Otherwise, though Book Depository calls to me and Amazaon sings its siren song, I prefer to support my local independent bookstore... mainly b/c of the browsing. My book group meets at this store and it is a deliciously reckless trap. I spend 90 minutes chatting about books and life while meanwhile also feverishly scanning the shelves around me- and the minute we're done for the night I'm up and reading blurbs or inspecting interesting covers. There's nothing like it :)

  5. See i'm not a reader but my children are, like their Daddy. I was interviewed for a SMH article on would books survive the eReader thing. They found me as i make badges from vintage books. I had to confess that i seemed like the reading demographic, housewife, 4 children in school, endless hours to read, but i'm a pharmacologist & only ever read text books!! I did tell her that soldiers read, a lot, as my husband was in Afghanistan at the time & reading volumes of books when he was back at base. Not sure if any of my comments made it, but funny it's the same kind of article. I bet on the books as the pages have history & i can't work my own iPod or bloody simple mobile phone. I know, i'm 35 & so not interested in technology, thank goodness my children can operate things. I drive, they supply the music. Love Posie

  6. I LOVE to browse. Drives my husband mad. Oh, well.
    Also -- paper books are the ONLY books, as far as I'm concerned. They're my Constant Friends; dog-eared and chocolate-smeared, I don't care. I love my books so much that if it ever becomes necessary to replace one, I search out the same edition and cover-art.

  7. I look for specific books online, usually using for the best deal. But there really is nothing like picking up a book in a store, putting it down again or tucking it under your arm. I'm off to Brunswick Heads tomorrow where my man's parents live. They own the 2nd hand bookstore in Mullumbimby and I know I'll be spending quite a bit of time there picking up, putting down, and picking up again :) I'm also being seduced by the thought of an e-reader for travelling but so far haven't succumbed. I suspect it's just a matter of time and what I've thought I might do is read a book electronically and then if I love it to bits I'll buy the 'real' thing :)

  8. There are those of use for whom books will never loose their allure. For a variety of reasons as youwell know.

    For me it is the attraction of paper, such a simple thing. Paper is like a magical vessel that awaits its destiny being unveiled through the hand of an artist. Be it an illustrator, a fashion designer, an architect or a writer.

    When I hold a book it is the feel of the paper and its representation of the writers journey that speaks to me.

    Forever will live the book.

  9. I have given in and bought a Kindle. I live a long way from any book shop and continually ran out of reading material. Being able to search on my Kindle, buy a novel and have it delivered within 1 minute whilst standing in my farm kitchen has been just brilliant for me.

    I still buy books some times. I still absolutely love them. I have even bought doubles (Kindle copy and real book) of things I really like.

    At the end of the day someone has to write a book. Then (hopefully for the author) someone will want to read it. I think, however the material is presented, it doesn't change the process too much. The important things is that people are reading. And writing.

  10. I like to fall asleep reading a book. Just can't come at doing that with a laptop. hehe. Really, I'm a library person because I'm not so much into re-reading and it's awful having people make fun of the fact that half of your possesions are books (kids, knowledge, etc). Cherrie

  11. I look for specific books online but am sometimes drawn in by recommendations, you know the 'People who bought this, also bought this...." Fatal for the bank balance.

    I use the library to get out a lot of books for research that I wouldn't buy otherwise and things I just fancy - cookery books and film books mostly.

    But I also buy a lot of books in a bookstore. I love the feel of them in my hands and the smell of the print. There are ones I just have to own and borrowing them won't do.

    I know Kindles and ebooks and all that is the way things are going but I still think people want to read paper books with lovely jackets, flyleafs and savour them.

  12. Two things to add, slightly opposing though ... first, I actually think you *can* browse online, although I wouldn't have thought it possible - but as much as I'm no big Amazon fan, it is really good at suggesting books you might like based on your search history and that's led me to "e-browse" and find some good stuff (which I dutifully look up in my library catalogue and reserve!).

    But, in opposition to myself ... there is truly nothing quite as satisfying as going in absolutely open-minded to a cosy bookshop (the independent kind) and just seeing what hits you. In that case it's usually just covers I look at, then I'll read the first few pages - I hate how much back covers sometimes give away. With a friend I've just started a small business running tours to local independent bookshops and that ability to browse is something our tour participants are mentioning they'd forgotten/nearly lost.

  13. I must admit, I haven't set foot in a library for years - BUT nothing beats a good walk around Chapters (or Indigo, or Borders or the like) I LOVE IT. I love the smell of a book store too - and that's something that I'll never get online. lol.

  14. I'm with Amanda ... I love a good independent bookstore and miss living in Melbourne because there were so many ... 3 that I could walk to from home even! I would only buy books online that I know I definitely want (but have yet to actually buy anything) but I save, and savour, the chance to browse & more than likely, buy a book in a bookstore. So it's hardcopy for me!

  15. Second hand book shops and charity shops are where it's at for me. As I'm on a tight budget, so I'll take a chance on an writer that is unknown to me in these shops that I wouldn't try in a new books shop. Libraries are great too, but I'm inclined to browse the same sections and not be as varied in my choices. All the kindle stuff had gone way over my head until Christmas - but now lots of my friends have e-readers. I think there will always be a place for printed books though.

  16. I should have added the library as my other 'go to' place yesterday. I love to browse for a good hour, often leaving without even borrowing anything, just reading a piece here and there, wandering back and forth. I must confess I stopped buying books a couple of years ago, more for the fact of storing them than anything, and I have four local libraries that I go to that are serving me well.

  17. It's been a while since I browsed, too - two-year-olds and browsing don't go well together!

    There's nothing better than spending time in a bookshop or library, just seeing what catches your eye, reading blurbs, finding new authors and reading the first lines in some books.


  18. I have more than one way to indulge my Habit! Kindle is great for travelling, I go to the library, bookshops and the Salvation Army to cast a wide net, but oh, how I love the internet and buying used books on Amazon! I have found books I have missed for YEARS - old textbooks, basic references, even one I had to go to the British Library for and copy endless pages by hand! (on Amazon it was one cent, to me it was pure gold). I now have all four of Mary Leunig's amazing books and I will never part with them.

    There's the Gutenberg Project as well - I read Sons and Lovers again in a series of uncomfortable gulps, Before Kindle. I LOVE being spoiled for choice.

  19. Libraries and bookshops are some of my favourite places. Money, big governmnet dollars. seem to be invested in libraries, whilst bookshops seem to be closing around me.

    I source my reading from wherever I can get it. But always in the form of a real book.

    I have two or three ebooks. Which I have, of course, printed off onto paper...

    (The browsing thing. I get sucked in willingly to the "if you like this, can we recommend..." component of online book sites. I have come across some wonders that way...I consider it the online version of a browse - it's amazing where those breadcrumbs can take you...)

  20. I haven't ever read an ebook and can't see myself ever getting a kindle, I love real books! I love old stinky books, yet there is nothing better than opening a fresh crisp new one too ;) I buy them online, and browse a lot, and look out for recommendations, and follow links from bloggers... I think I actually buy and read more from online browsing than real life browsing. Living in a non-English speaking country means I haven't much choice really... thank god for free postage and cheap online stores!

  21. Thanks everyone for your thoughtful comments.I too love a good indie bookshop, but, unfortunately, Fibrotown is not equipped with one. Hence buying online and the Library. I do support our local (chain) bookshops where possible, but they don't always have what I want - and it can take SO long to get it in.

    Interesting that e-books have only one or two fans here. I wonder if that would change if I asked the same question in five years time?

  22. To me the printed book is not dead while at home & for day travel I love a book.

    For longer holiday breaks I'd love to have an Ebook as it would save me carrying 4 or more books on my hoildays.

    Them books would all be in a slim easy light to carry Ebook.

    For me there is a balance of both.

    (((( Hugs )))) XXXX Kisses XXXX

  23. Goodness I just typed a whole missive and poof it's gone... so i'm guessing no kindle for me!!

    Fibrotown does have two second hand book stores and I have spent many a lunch time browsing through both. The Library too ( I agree with your classification system!!). My girls and I make a monthly visit on a Saturday afternoon... two are voracious readers (though I am hoping that their fascination with vampires is over soon)... the other whines and moans - but usually ends up in the kids section and winds up with at least two books to take home - usually non fiction (strange child)

    To me a home that doesnt contain overflowing bookshelves is a show home - there is no life in it. My book cases fairly groan under the strain - and I refuse to part with any! Whilst I may shop at second hand bookstores as well as the chain stores I absolutely refuse to part with any that come into my possession (unless borrowed from the library - though there are a couple of books on the shelf with my old high school stamp in them - circa 1985).

    The only benefit to a Kindle that I can really see is that if you can't lend a book out it can't be "lost".

  24. Online shops are gradually acquiring the "browse" function- either the "people who viewed this also liked..." or the more sophisticated Amazon "recommended for you" which I have found great. You start entering a few books and it starts recommending others like them. You either tell it that you're interested/liked that book or not, and it rapidly learns what works for you. Before being accused of being an Amazon-bot, I should add that this is all without obligation to purchase!

    I'm gradually being drawn into the eBook fold in certain scenarios- especially the free classics. The iPad fits my "book in hand" comfort criteria, and if I travelled more I would be loading it up with A Suitable Boy or other mammoth tomes. My two peeves with eBooks are copyright enforcement issues: that they can't be lent, which is how I read a lot of good books, and they can't be given as such- the best is the "here's a voucher for $17.99 which I want you to buy Book X with". Also the occasional software malfunction or sync issue peeves me, but I guess it's equivalent to the lost book scenario.

  25. Ah @Joli - you're right. Remiss of me not to mention the 2nd-hand stores. Both are very good. And I also take your point about books that go out to be borrowed and never return home. An e-reader would certainly solve that problem.

    I confess that I cull my bookshelves in a big way every year. A book has to be special to remain on my keeper list.

  26. Hi Allison. I must admit the GW article made me think about the same issues too. Most of my book selection is done via the look of the cover or the spiel on the blurb. I also like to sit and read a few pages of the first chapter, if I have time and I'm somewhere like Borders. But, more often these days, I will read a recommendation in the paper and buy immediately online (otherwise I tend to forget). I think there is a place for e books, especially when travelling (I remember going to Europe in 2003 with 4 huge guidebooks and 3 novels - heavy stuff) but I still love the look of my bookcases stuffed with books and browsing all the gorgeous second hand bookshops around the place.

  27. I feel exactly the same way. The side of me that loves to mooch and croon all over books wants the paper. The side of me that dashes and sorts wants the Reader. I cannot ultimately decide, but for now the romantic in me is winning for sure.

    What on earth would I put on all those shelves, afterall!?! x

  28. Hi Allison, I'm brand new to the blogging world and just wanted to say I love your blog and thoroughly enjoy your writing. This post is thought provoking and timely for me, as I find myself doing more and more of the every day bits & pieces online! There is a sneaky convenience to buying online and for the first few times I did it, I almost felt I was cheating on the retail world... crazy I know! Although I do buy online now more than ever, I'm still a self confessed sucker for an aimless browse in a lovely shop or store. For me, I prefer to read books in their traditional format, with a nice bookmark minding my place when I'm not there :o)

  29. Last year, much to the joy of my credit card provider, I discovered Book Depository. One of the best features (aside from the amazingly cheap books and free international postage) is the browsing features. You get a display of books that others have bought and can 'watch' what others are buying at the same time that you are shopping. I have made some great book finds buy following a trail of links until I strike gold.

    I can understand the usefulness of an e-reader. I went away for a weekend late last year and took 5 large books with me to read while travelling on the train/coach. A compact reader would have been so much better. I can't get past the comfort of snuggling up in bed with a good book, however. 'Real' books are much easier to share with friends as well (sorry authors who are missing out on royalties. I only share with those people who wouldn't buy them anyway, really).

  30. I buy all my books online, I don't really have much choice unless my Spanish improves dramatically enough for me to read more than a page without having to turn to a dictionary every 10th word.

    But, I do browse, I can spend many an hour on Amazon, reading all the reviews of books I like etc. I am currently in two minds about getting a Kindle, one of the things swinging towards it is the huge back (Free) catalogue of classic that are available. But I do like a book, much the same as I like to own a hard copy of a CD and don't do downloading.

  31. I can browse a bus stop, looking for something to read. It's a sickness that will die with me, but it's also a joy that has lived with me all my days. Give me bookshops any day.
    But like that Good Weekend article pointed out, online, you're looking for something specific. In bookshops, you browse and come across something unexpected. Much better experience. Much better fun.

  32. I agree there's nothing quite like holding and reading a real book. The cover designs, the smell and feel of pages old or new, nothing is better. Having said that, the only reason I don't yet have a kindle is because I'm still saving for one. I like the idea of being able to carry many books in one small unit. I do shop online for books, usually because I'm wanting a specific title or author and can't find it in my local bookstore or library.


Thanks for popping by the Fibro. I love to hear from you!

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...