Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Illiteracy: A Mind Is a Terrible Thing To Waste

Last week I received an invitation to speak at the annual Champions of Literacy luncheon hosted by the Literary Instruction For Texas (LIFT) organization. While I won’t be able to attend, as an author literacy is extremely important to me.

For most Americans, it’s hard to fathom there are people born and raised in the U.S. who either can’t read very well, or at all. Illiteracy impacts everything they do. Some statistics:
The average age of a LIFT student is 37.
Between 2004 and 2007, the number of adult learners participating in LIFT programs increased by 292%, from 2,103 to 6,141.
Texas holds the distinction of being the number one state in the nation with the highest number of high school dropouts.
But Texas is far from alone. Across the U.S. 42 million Americans cannot read at all, and another 50 million recognize so few printed words they are limited to a fourth or fifth grade reading level.
43% of those whose literacy skills are the lowest live in poverty. And the numbers are growing at an alarming rate.

Over the next several months I intend to do as much as I can to promote the problem of illiteracy in the U.S. while providing resources targeted towards helping people learn to read. There used to be an ad slogan, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.” It still is.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Faster Than a Speeding Bullet: Consumer's Changing Habits

Earlier this week, I posted about purchasing books online. I’d tried it after reading David Streitfeld’s article “Bargain Hunting for Books and Feeling Sheepish About It”. Streitfeld was able to purchase a pristine copy of a hard-to-find book he was searching for, paying a quarter for the work.

I tested this out, purchasing two books, one from Amazon and one from a book reseller. The results: The first book, Old Flames by Jack Ketchum arrived directly from Amazon and that copy was brand new. The second book, Angels and Demons by Dan Brown was to be a birthday gift for my husband.

Both books arrived promptly – Old Flames in three days and Angels and Demons in five. The copy of Angels and Demons was carefully packed (a bomb could detonate next to the package and it would have remained tightly taped inside the delivery envelop) so no complaints there. The book itself was unmarked, but clearly it was used and smelled a bit musty. Had the book not been intended as a gift it would have been perfectly fine. It turned out my husband had a new copy he’d purchased over a year ago, but hadn't had time to read.

Overall the experience was a very good one. The reseller contacted me via e-mail thanking me for the order as did Amazon. The customer service in both instances was stellar. Unlike David Streitfeld I felt no guilt purchasing books over the Internet versus driving to a brick and mortar store. Everything related to book publishing changed once the shopping habits of consumers changed.

Would I buy books this way again? Absolutely. Two years ago, my husband ordered a hard-to-find work from Amazon simply because that was the only place carrying the book. So in a way, changing our habits is only logical. No doubt there will be tough times and adjustments. We can lament these trends and try to fight them or we can accept shifting habits and patterns, integrating them into our own business and marketing plans.

Monday, February 2, 2009

There's No Going Back

Bargain Hunting for Books and Feeling Sheepish About It” is a great article by David Streitfeld on the changing habits of book buyers and their impact on publishers, authors, readers, and traditional bookstores. Streitfeld’s aghast comes from his participation in the very habits that are changing the publishing industry forever – buying a book for little money over the Internet versus shopping at a brick and mortar bookstore.

As an author I certainly understand the negative side effects of Internet technology – publishers are laying off employees, bookstores are closing, and authors are receiving far less in royalties. Even booksellers don’t make a lot of money – there are so many copies available of the most titles pricing is very competitive. These are exactly the reasons I just purchased two books over the Internet. From the behemoth Amazon, no less.

Without leaving the comfort of my home, I paid under $26 for both titles, which are being shipped to my front door. No wasting gas driving to the bookstore, then spending time searching for the titles, requesting help when I can’t find what I’m looking for, then making the return trip, etc. What would take an hour took less than 10 minutes. Engaging the Internet I saved time, got a decent competitive price, and had my choice of copies to choose from, some used and some new.

I don’t feel sheepish as Streitfeld apparently did. Would I like to get more royalties for my novel? Of course! At the same time, there’s no going back to way books were sold pre-Internet. As a writer, I need to let go of worrying about how many books I’m selling vs. readers who purchase the novel for less money through booksellers, love it, and spread the word.