Essays

How Many Times Do You Hear About a Book Before You Read or Buy It?

These days, many of us are bombarded with multiple mixed messages. Buy this product! Try this treatment! Save your money! Go on that vacation! The more this happens, I find myself retreating into my book bubble, but even that space can be overloaded with calls to action. From New York Times Best Sellers to book-to-screen adaptations, the amount of books praised each year can be overwhelming. We can be overloaded with information about one book and then find it hard to uncover some lesser known titles. This is even more so for those who are not in the book world or don’t read books very often. Either way, with the amount of marketing that goes out for each of these books, I wonder about their effectiveness. That is…are we more likely to buy a book that we’re more aware of?

In general, many of us could say yes. After all, we can’t read a book or buy it if we’ve never heard of it. BUT is there a special marketing recipe to make a book more appealing? Is there a number of times that a person hears about a book that would lead them to read it? Does a magic number exist? That brings me to the question for today. How many times do you hear about a book before you read or buy it?

Reading vs. Buying

There are many reasons to read or buy a book. On first reflection, it can appear that reading and buying books could be interchangeable. However, my reasons for reading a book and buying it are different. For many like myself, we enjoy owning books that we already love. It is rare for us to buy a new book because we don’t know if we like it yet. In the same way, there are different things that we think about before deciding to read a book. Will it have some of the same tropes I like? Will the plot be interesting to me? There are many motivations for reading a book, but is there a major factor that determines one’s likelihood of reading a book and buying it? Are our reading and buying habits affected by the frequency we’ve read about a particular book? That’s what I want to explore!

Reasons to Buy Books: 2017 Survey

My preliminary research on the topic didn’t bear many results. There have been some studies on what factors make us more likely to select a particular book, but they don’t really include frequency of exposure to a book. In 2017, Gigi Griffis, a writer and traveler, created a survey to explore the motivations behind readers’ book buying habits. Based on her results, she found that 82% of the 355 readers in her survey buy a book because it’s by an author they already like while almost 77% buy books because a friend suggested it. Furthermore, before buying, around 82% said they read the back cover while 56% spent time reading the reviews. With this in mind, she also considered why readers would buy a book instead of borrowing it from the library. Almost 47% of readers said that they wanted to support an author that they like while around 45% buy a book because they want to read it again. Around 35% will buy the book because the library doesn’t have it.

These results provide some information about reading and buying habits, but none of these questions specifically addressed how the amount of times we’ve heard about a book can affect our reading or buying habits. Because of this, I took a look at Reddit to get a better understanding of how knowledge of a book can affect one’s probability of reading it.

Prior Knowledge of Book Before Reading: Reddit

The most relevant Reddit thread I found was this one asking how much people know about a book before reading it. Some responses listed Goodreads as a go-to source for information along with trusted book lists. Other responders noted that they only read the book blurb. At the same time, depending on the genre, some readers wanted a little background information before diving into historical fiction. A fair amount of people noted that they want to know as little as possible. Because of this, they focus on becoming familiar with the plot, looking up the author, or following a friend’s recommendation. Others wanted to know the tone and what sort of entertainment it would provide. A few others looked to reviews or the book cover to inform their decision. With this in mind, I was curious if readers could put a number to the amount of times they would need to hear about a book to make the decision to read it. This takes me to the Book Rioter contributors!

What Did Our Book Riot Contributors Have to Say?

In an informal poll, I asked my fellow contributors at Book Riot for their input. Because of our earlier discussion about the difference between reading and buying a book, I asked them two questions. The first one was “How many times do you hear about a book before you read it?” The second was “How many times do you hear about a book before you buy it?” For both questions, I provided the same set of responses to choose from. These were: 1 time, 2 times, 3 times, 4 times, 5 or more times, and “it’s not about the number of times I hear it/it’s something else.” For the last option, I asked for an explanation in the comments! 

For the first question (How many times do you hear about a book before reading it?), the majority of readers picked the last option. Instead of focusing on how much they’ve heard about a book, they are more concerned about what they hear about the book. They need to know about the plot, characters, and alignment with their current reads to get them interested in a book. Interestingly, some noted that it wasn’t the amount of times they hear about a book, but rather whether there is a particular element that piques their interest. This could happen right away or over time. With that in mind, the second most popular response was “1 time.” This surprised me until I got a little more background on that decision. For some of these readers, hearing about a book one time from a trusted source is enough to get them to read it. At the same time, these readers need to hear about a book many times before reading it if it comes from a less trusted source.

One of Book Riot’s contributors, Susie Dumond, explained her point of view:

“It doesn’t take much to get me to read a book by an author I’ve already read and loved. Assuming it’s a book by an author I haven’t read previously, it still depends on who I’m hearing it from…If it’s some randos on Goodreads or bookstagram, it will probably take 5+. If two Book Riot contributors say it’s great, I’m in. It takes at least a dozen mentions by friends who don’t really read very much for me to be intrigued.”

Moving on to the second question brings some similar results. When asked how many times someone needed to hear about a book before buying it, the majority selected that it’s not about the number. Although they chose the same response, their explanation was a bit different. A few wrote that they buy to support certain presses, bookstores, and authors. Others mostly buy because they like owning a book they already love or want other books my a favorite author. Some of the other reasons coincide with the first question in which readers depend more on who they hear about the book from and what they hear about it rather than the number of times.

Annika Barranti Klein, another Book Riot contributor, explained her motivations:

“I mostly only buy a book if I know the author personally, love all of their other books a lot, or have already read this particular book and loved it.” 

While reading over other readers’ habits, I’ve found myself in many of their responses. I’m usually drawn to a book because the book aligns with my current tastes or is recommended by someone who has similar tastes as me. I often buy a beloved book to display it on my shelf. My other motivation is to support an author or for convenience. There are many books that I have heard about countless times and been recommended, but I’ll most likely never read. Why? None of those sources align with my tastes. Recommenders from celebrity book clubs and booktok could sing a book’s praises, but that doesn’t mean I’d read it. It’d only get me to check it out, but whether I read it depends on my impression of the book.

Where Does This Leave Us?

From my preliminary research to conversations with other readers, it’s clear that this question on its face doesn’t necessarily factor in readers’ motivations for reading and buying a book. Rather than focusing on how many times someone hears about a book, it would be more beneficial to consider what is being said and who is saying it. The more a book is discussed will increase interest, but the enticement to read it relies on what is presented about the book and how that interacts with the reader’s interests. Instead of asking how many times we need to hear about a book to read it, it might be more fruitful to explore what factors contribute to the book reading decision. For example, are readers more concerned about the author of a book? What about the plot or characters? Better yet, what is the major factor that determines whether someone reads a book or not?

There is so much more to learn about the motivations to read a book and buy it. We’re just flipping through the first pages.

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