Expanding the market for reading. Part one: sell multiple copies of the same title

I am a firm believer that publishers need to be watching out for opportunities to promote not only the titles for which they are currently responsible, but also books and reading in general. With this in mind, here is the first of an occasional series of personal reflections on ways to expand the market for books, both old and new.

One of the interesting parts of starting to live with someone else is how you assimilate your belongings. I’ll concentrate on what proved to be a major issue in the case of my husband and I – how to accommodate our books.

We met young, and bonded instantly over our shared love of reading. Given that we had studied different subjects at university it turned out there was an extensive, and not particularly overlapping, range to what became our shared collection, from his le Carre and Hemingway to my Austen and Alther. But the net total was very high. So we put up lots of shelves, and have continued to cherish, augment and move with our collection ever since, all the while thinking that one day we could offer access to our children and they too could read the titles we had lovingly preserved.

How ever much care you take of your own books, will your kids want to read your copies? (Image courtesy Chotda on Flickr)

How wrong we were. What we discovered is that our teenagers want to follow their own journey. They want their own books, not faded copies of those their parents loved. Indeed, knowledge that their parents already know what they have only just discovered can turn them right off. Do you really want to know that your dad read On the Road or your mother The Bell Jar – when its resonance with the teenage you is so complete? Or to read their marginal scribblings; to note the bits they underlined? I think not.

Does knowing your father read, owned and annotated 'On the Road' make it less cool? (Image from Penguin Modern Classics)

So in the last four or five years we have spent money on buying multiple editions (our four children each want their own) of titles we already own. And if they ask for something, I no longer point out that there is already an edition available, complete with an authentically retro cover… I have even bought new Kindle editions of my own favourites – it feels strangely comforting to know I now have my most sustaining resources with me at all times.

Raising this with the MA students yesterday – most in their early twenties – it seems that maturity enables you to return to your parents’ books with a renewed sense of discovery, and take an interest in their reading journey too. This is heartening. But in the meantime, and until my children reach this stage, I am happy to fund repeat purchases.


One response to “Expanding the market for reading. Part one: sell multiple copies of the same title

  1. Interesting stuff. The idea of selling more copies of old books is of course especially relevant in the age of ebooks and print on demand. At the O’Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing meeting in February former Waterstones chief Tim Coates called for publishers to satisfy their customer base by moving away from simply publishing “more” books to providing greater access to their older titles online.

    As for buying both print and e-copies, if Bloomsbuy MD Evan Schnittman has got the right strategy, we’ll soon be getting combined print and e-book packages anyway.

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