Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Instant Gratification, Frustration, and the Internet

Over the years, my book buying habits have changed. I used to walk into a bookstore, eager to spend the next hour or two browsing, actually reading some of each book I considered buying. I read various review magazines, and I might go into the store with a list of titles I was interested in. I'd talk with the bookstore personnel, and often come up with recommendations for even more books.

Then online bookstores exploded into the market, offering many titles I couldn't find in my local bookstores. Nevertheless, I was slow to fill my bookshelves with online purchases. I liked to be able to dip into the book before committing myself to its purchase.

All that changed with e-books. Now I could download a sample from the book to my e-reader (I got a Kindle first, and then an iPad), and satisfy my craving for a dip before buying. And, as I did on my bookstore trips, once I decided I liked the book I could buy it immediately: my yearning for instant gratification was not only encouraged, but satisfied.

However, the internet changed more than just the ability to download e-books instantly. It altered not only book selling but review protocol. Librarians and other readers and writers always loved the joy of collecting ARCs at BEA and the ALA conventions, but as blogs spread across the internet, reviews came earlier and earlier, as if blog reviewers were excited to report "I just read this terrific book and I'm going to whet your desire for it, but you won't be able to see it for another six months!"

When I read an enticing review for a book, I expect that it may not be out until next month, but there's nothing so depressing as reading a review in November for a book that won't be out until April!

The internet has set up the expectation of instant gratification, so as soon as I read a review that intrigues me, I immediately check to see if I can download a sample of the book now, and I fully expect to buy the complete book as soon as I finish that sample if I like it as much as I hope. I don't mind pre-ordering something I expect to enjoy if it's going to be released next week or next month, but I've grown too impatient to wait for four or five months!

Blog reviewers, please wait to post your reviews until it's a little closer to the book's actual release date, to minimize your faithful readers' frustration. Chances are your enthusiastic review will excite me about the book, but by the time it comes out 5 months from now, chances are I'll have forgotten its title and why you convinced me I'd love it. Our online world has conditioned us to immediacy - we now expect instant gratification and have no patience for waiting. It's great to tantalize us with a list of ARCs you picked up, but couldn't you hold your reviews until closer to each title's release? I think it will lower my reading blood pressure, and make me love you more. Then again, I suppose blog reviewers are eager to publish their reviews as soon as possible - perhaps it's not fair to expect them to be immune to the desire for instant gratification themselves.