Tim Downs Blog The Official Blog of Author Tim Downs


Does Anybody Read Books Anymore?

Some social commentators mourn the loss of literacy in our culture. “People don’t read books anymore—they’re too busy sending tweets and posting comments.” Others point out that social media like Twitter and Facebook are an indicator that people are reading more than ever—they’re just reading different things.

There are even hopeful indicators that people are still reading books, like the fact that today more Americans hold library cards than ever before. That fact tells me what writers know all too well: People still read books—they just don’t buy them.

I’ve lost count of how many readers who’ve written to tell me, “I can’t wait to read your latest novel, but there are twelve ‘holds’ on it at the library.” Or, “I just loved your last book—I loaned it to all my friends.”

Don’t misunderstand—I’m thrilled that people loan my books and check them out from the library. Most writers, I believe, are more interested in circulation than sales. Given the choice between readership and reward, we’ll take readership every time. Unfortunately, the only indicator we have as to how well a book is circulating is how many copies have sold. The NY Times records best sellers, not best loaners.

I’ve often wondered if some of the most-circulated books have less-than-spectacular sales. It leads me to wonder: What is it that makes someone buy a book? How do readers choose between the book they borrow, the book they check out, and the book they want to own?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Comments (32) Trackbacks (0)
  1. If I like a book, especially in a series, I will buy the whole kit and kaboodle. I find myself thinking back on different things I learned in the differing forensic situations. I like that part of bug man. I learn something about a field I knew nothing about. I buy for our church library and keep all the books stocked. I personally own three and hope to complete the set because I have this “set” mentality. When I reread them I don’t want to wait inbetween books.
    My husband just took the iPad plunge and so I guess we will have combination books from here on out. I hope he shares from time to time. Otherwise I will just have to keep buying books :)
    Only one chapter of “Nick of Time” is torturous! I can hardly stand the wait. Thanks for your books. You have quite a few devoted readers in my neighborhood.

  2. I LOVE BOOKS!!! Reading is my favorite thing to do, and I spend waaaayyy too much time doing it (but what better thing for my four kids to see me doing; as i preach, readers are leaders!). Fortunately, my husband never says one negative word, no matter how many books I buy or how many bookshelves I need. My sister told me about Shoofly Pie years ago but I never could locate a copy. Then a few months ago, I was in my church library and there it sat on the counter! I immediately got it, read it, bought it and any others of yours I could get my hands on. I read them like a devouring chocolate! I had to get some off of e-bay, but some I’ve been able to get at our Christian bookstore (I admit, with a coupon). I now have them all, have read them all at least twice, some more, and am currently re-reading Plague Maker. I get unknown author’s books from the library, but books I fall in love with, I want to own. I love books that make me laugh, make me happy, or have good morals. You are my most-often-recommended author – truth! Quit reading and start typing, please, sir!

  3. i’ll borrow a book from a friend if it’s a new auther but if i like it i’ll buy the rest, i really love your bug man series! Is there going to be another one? i really hope so, keep up the good work your books are great!!!

  4. I want to keep and re-read the books I love! I use Amazon and also Christianbook.com to keep the price as low as possible. If I’m not sure about the book I can read some of the book on Amazon. If a book does not grab my interest in the first few pages I just won’t buy it. And don’t even mention Kindle! I love the feel of the pages turning! How can you curl up at night with an electronic book? I have all your books so far Tim…if I loan one I always hear that the new reader is hooked too! Keep writing! (faster please!)

  5. I may borrow at first, but once I become commited to a series, I loyaly buy the books. Funny story how I happend upon Shoofly Pie actually…I was stationed at a base that was closing down and my boss was just going to throw away all the books that were in our break room. I cried “NOOOO” and flung my arms around them, like Kathryn protecting Callie in the cornfield, lol. I grabbed what I could and took them home. Our movers came the next day for our stuff and the books went into the boxes. A few months later I actually picked up Shoofly Pie and was ADDICTED! I immediatly ordered Chop Shop and luckily First the Dead came out just a few months after I read Chop Shop.

  6. Books are kind of expensive; I think most people just cheap out on you, even if they love your work. There are so many other pulls for time – job, tv, etc, that they don’t feel justified dropping $10-20 on a book they honestly only read once. Your books are good enough to warrant a second read through, but a lot out there aren’t. There are mistakes, flat characters, tired plots – not in your books but in a bunch of others, so people don’t like the risk of spending money on something that might bum them out in the end.
    Also, people are inherently self-interested, (me included and especially). If given the choice of free with wait or spend money, free has great appeal. Most people don’t really register the fact that this is the author’s livelihood they’re so casually measuring in their mind every time they pick up and put down a book.
    BTW, I wish I could meet your son;-)

  7. We read a lot. I mean A LOT. We borrow books because we read A LOT. If I bought every book that my daughter and I read (or even bought every book we loved), I’d be bankrupt before the end of the month. Sheer volume (pardon the pun).

  8. I’m a librarian at a very busy public library in the L.A. area, and I hate to break it to you, but the best circulating books (here at least) are the best-sellers (Grisham, King, celebrity tell-alls, etc). Personally, I never buy fiction anymore. I check it out from the library because I can’t see paying $25 – $30 for a book I would only read once. It all adds up and I have two college tuitions to save for. That and the fact I have very little shelf space in my house. The only books I actually buy anymore are cooksbooks, medical books, or any other type of guides that I would use again and again.

    Oh yes. I LOVE your Bugman books. So does everyone I’ve recommended them to. Please write faster. ; )

  9. I LOVE books. I am an avid reader and almost never go to the library. I hate to have a time limit on books, I may want to read it again. I have 8 floor to ceiling book shelves full of books and I can’t wait to go and find more. I am a single mom with little or no help and I realize that books cost alot, but I don’t smoke, don’t drink or do drugs, so I spend a little on myself knowing that my family and my kids will get the chance to read them too. Most of the time I buy hardbacks because I am to impatient to wait for them in paperback. My favorites I buy the day they come out, Tim Downs, Ted Dekker, and Robert Liparulo. I can’t wait for more. If people are concerned about not reading them again you can always take them to a second hand bookstore and get money for them, then you can go back out and buy something else, usually right there in the bookstore. It’s hard to find the best titles there but you can sometimes run across some good ones. No electronic books for me, I love the looks of a new book and the smell.

  10. No electronic E-books for me! I love turning the pages. Even reading the first chapters online is hard for me…too cold and impersonal! A good book pulls me right in to the pages and I am totally lost in the characters and scenes. I give a book one chapter…two at the most…to grab my attention and curiosity. None of your books have taken nearly that long…usually the first page and I am there! If I have to make a choice between a new book by a favorite author and groceries…well, I just eat more rice and beans that week. (-: I do wish you could write faster but suppose you must have a life away from your computer! Thanks for many wonderful hours following the bugman around. Looking forward to the next one…hopefully soon!

  11. I can’t remember the last time I went to a library to check out a book. Maybe one reason is that I can’t stand the plastic covers they tape to the outside of the books to protect them, they tend to be distracting while reading. Wow, that sounds really picky….
    I do think the ways people read are changing but not in the way mentioned above. I have purchased a Kindle and I can see the growth of E-books becoming huge over the next few years. The mention of technology with facebook and other social networking sites makes me think that reading books using technology is the most likely future of literature.
    In the past I have always bought the hardcover the day it came out for a few of my favorite authors (Grisham, Crichton, Downs) but “Ends of the Earth” marks the first book that I purchased the electronic version and not the hardbound. I haven’t decided yet if I will continue to buy the hardbounds for these favorites.
    I guess one good thing for authors is that you can’t share books through electronic devices unless they are linked through the same credit card (as far as I know), this might lead to more sales.

    • Your decision to buy electronic may be a sign of things to come, Brian. Publishers all believe that electronic formats like Kindle are the wave of the future–they’re just waiting to see how fast the market segment will grow, and no one knows for sure. It’s tough when a Kindle still costs $300. I think Amazon needs to think about Kindle the way cell phone companies think about phones: Sell them cheap and make your money back later.

  12. I found “First the Dead” at the library and loved it so much that I purchased it, as well as every other Bug Man book. There aren’t many novels that I buy if I’ve already checked them out at the library, but I couldn’t pass up adding these to my collection. The plots are amazing, the humor is unbelievable, and they’re decent, so they make great gifts to friends, believers and non-believers alike. I’ve loaned one out, but I know it will be returned. Looking forward to more; it’s a sad day when I get to the end and know there aren’t any more on the way! One reason I purchase a novel is with the idea that I will probably loan it to someone, but also that I will read it again sometime in the future. There’s only a handful of novels that fits that category for me. Keep writing, please!

  13. I use the library as a source for most of my books and here’s why: 1. If I don’t like the book, no skin off my back – I just return and check out something else. It’s basically like screening as others mentioned. 2. Hard times = not a lot of extra cash to go out and buy something you can borrow for free. Plus, I enjoy reading a lot and I could go broke with one visit to Barnes & Noble or even Half Price! 3. It is a rare book that I read twice. I think the only books I’ve read more than once are This Present Darkness/Piercing the Darkness, several of CS Lewis’ books, Classic Christianity and Les Miserables. Beyond those, you’d be hard pressed to find a book I’ve read more than once even if I absolutely LOVED it!

    Those are my reasons. However, I think your books are awesome. And I would definitely buy a few, especially if it helped them to become more mainstream (even within the Christian arena). I’d like to be able to get my hands on them much more easily because they are good reads that aren’t cheesy (as so many Christian authors tend to be). I was so excited when I found your stuff! I did buy Chop Shop because I couldn’t seem to find it anywhere even though I live in one of the largest metro areas in the US. I may be buying others as they are just too good to pass up. Thanks for your great work and please keep it coming!!!

  14. We get 95% of our books from the library. However, we do have a copy of PlagueMaker. When we do buy a book, it’s usually because we are SO excited to read it that we don’t want to wait a few weeks to get it from the library. Or, if it’s one we liked so much that we want to have a copy for our kids to read someday.

    Someday when we are not living so much off paycheck to paycheck, we will probably support our favorite authors more and buy actual copies of their books rather than just check them out.

  15. Again, one more thing. No! I didn’t notice a cameo appearance of the bugman in Plague Maker. I took it off the bookshelf today and will find him. Thank you!

  16. My cousin gave me PlagueMaker as a gift. I liked your writing so much I bought Head Game. Then, while again looking online at christianbook.com I looked up Author and put your name in. Thus, Shoo Fly Pie. When I finished it, I loaned it to the same cousin that gave me PlagueMaker, whose father, my uncle, happened to be reading Head Game. This went back and forth. They’re all good, I love your writing. And Shoo Fly Pie and Chop Shop (which of course had to be bought… it was another Bugman book…yay!), went around my work until all the readers read it. Bugman books being incredible; well all yours are, so when I am online or go in a book store, you’re the first author I look for. And online, they have “pre-orders” which I line ’em up! I can’t finish a book and NOT have another one waiting. So regarding your comment on do people really read books anymore, YES! If I have started the last book in a group I bought, I go out and buy a dozen more. I think I’d have a panic attack if I knew I was carrying my “last” book.

  17. At present I’m about halfway through PlagueMaker, the first of your books that I’ve gotten. Enjoying it very much. I will move into the Bug Man books following it. I don’t borrow books from the library because it puts a time constraint on returning them. I like to take my time and not have to hurry to meet a deadline in my reading. As others do also, I don’t reread fiction. Instead I donate them to our church library when I’m finished. Thanks and stay the course!

  18. I love to read books, I am looking all the time for a good read. I have enjoyed reading the bug man series. It is interesting and keeps my attention. Nick is a wise guy, but we who read the books love him for his humor and bug qualities. Thanks and hope you continue with great writing.

  19. I always buy my books. I like having them on hand when I want to read. Also, then I can pass them on to several friends that don’t have a lot of money to buy them. I have several favorite authors of which you are one. I usually preorder your books and wait patiently for them to show up on my doorstep because I always know I will enjoy reading them.

  20. I do own one of your books, but prefer the library as my source. I first found out about the Bug Man books in my library. I now AM the reason your last two books were purchased and are in my library! I also recommend all your books to my reading friends across this nation.
    Keep the Bug Man books coming. It should be interesting to read about him blissfully married?!?

  21. I love Nick Polchak! I enjoy reading. In June of last year I heard you on the radio talking to Dennis Rainey about “First the Dead.” I thought he sounded like an interesting character. I then joined the summer reading program at the local library. I read all sorts of books from Donna Andrews to Lori Wick. I got a job as a page at the library in August of last year. Some of the books I read were borrowed from my mother. Most were borrowed from the library. One (Less Than Dead) I purchased as a birthday gift to myself. Since June of 2008 I have read 288 books (not including the Bible and “The Seven Conflicts”). As much as I would have liked to, there is no way could possibly have purchased all of those books. Nor would I have a place to store them.

    My kids all enjoy reading books, too.

  22. As the mom of a writer/reader, we do buy books…and we have bought your books! We (I!) LOVE your Bug Man books…and I wait for your next ones, quite impatiently!

  23. Maybe there should be a book loaners’ list. 0=) Teasing. I’m impatient enough to have bought several of yours hardback instead of waiting.

  24. First of I would like too say a few things: 1) I have never actually bought one of your books. The only reason that I found out about you is that my brother has bought all your books and encouraged me to read to borrow and read them. 2) I plan on buying your “Ends of the Earth” as soon as I can find it.

    That being said we are in rough times. I cannot buy every book that looks good, and I understand that not everyone can buy books which they may only read once. My brother has read through ShooFly Pie so many times that it’s falling apart (The first four chapters fell out) so buying it was a great thing for him. But he also has scads of books that aren’t entertaining that he will never read again. These books were (In my opinion) a waste of money. I guess for some people they can’t take that risk. I, since I have read all your books and loved them, will puchase your next books without a doubt. But if I want to introduce someone to Nick, I will lend them your books, instead of telling them to buy them.

  25. Tim & Co.: I’m 63, grew up before TV, and would spend hours as a child turning pages of our (black and white) Comptons World Book encyclopedia set. I COULD NOT wait to learn to read, so I could understand the words beneath the pictures. I’ve been a feverish reader all my life, currently lug around cards from 4 different library systems here in Columbus, subscribe to the local paper, and typically churn through 2-4 books per week. Yes, people still read: I’m old enough (antiquated enough) to also still write letters. Just finished Chop Shop, and plan to rip through the rest of your stuff. Well done.

  26. I will check out an author that I have never read before by getting the book at the library. If I like the author I will go and buy all his books. If I REALLY like the author I will get all his books in HARDBACK! There are only two authors who I now buy in hardback ( if available that way). Ted Dekker and now TIM DOWNS!! I love your bug man books….actually I love all your books. Keep up the great stories.

  27. I absolutely LOVE your books! I did get them from the library because that is my way a screening authors, but when I find a series or author I like I try to buy it. Often I think that people do not buy books is because books are expensive and unless you set aside money specifically for books you spend your money on food or other things. I will promise you this that I will be buying as many of your books as I can especially the bugman novels. Keep up that great work!

  28. The book I borrow is one that has been forced upon me by a well-meaning friend. The book I check out is one that is of a genre or topic of interest to me, but which I don’t recognise the author’s name. The book I want to own is one that I loved reading (regardless of how it came into my hands), one that is from an author whose other works I have enjoyed, or one that has been well-reviewed/considered a classic. There has been one exception to all of those examples – how I ended up buying ‘Shoo Fly Pie’; it was the cover (terrible to admit, I know). Most books that are marketed to Christians have a very specific look to them and to be honest, they do nothing for me, however, ‘Shoo Fly Pie’ had a fantastic cover design. When the content of the book was even better than the cover I became a loyal reader/buyer.

  29. I love to own books, not borrow them. If it’s a non-fiction book, I like to mark it all up with highlighters and pens and make my own comments in the margins. I couldn’t do that with a borrowed book. With regards to ficiton, sometimes someone will loan me a book from an author I’ve never read. If I enjoy the book, then I’m buying all their other books, even though I don’t re-read fiction. Though I use Twitter & Facebook, I don’t look forward to trying to read an electronic book. I love paper between my fingers. Keep up the good work!

  30. Well, I would like to tell you that my Book Club is reading your book, “Plague Maker” for its first meeting of the fall…September 1. You book was my choice for the group, I read it last spring, and I think it says a lot about what actually could happen in our modern world. I loved Li, too, and think he was wonderfully written. As discussion leader, I have been planning how to lead the meeting, and your characters are full of life…thank you for a grand book! And…we all had to get the book from second hand places on Amazon as it is out of print…we figured we would help bring it into another printing!!! Give us a good dose of swine flu and it WILL go into another printing! If by chance you do respond to these comments, would you please tell me more about Li? How you happened upon him? I love the history in the book…thank you for stretching our minds and making us think.

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