Dispatches from the Digital Revolution

The power of preorders: Instant gratification


There are many avid readers who will run right out to the bookstore to pick up the latest hardcover from their favorite author on release day.

I confess that I am not—and have never been—one of those readers.

For a combination of reasons, I was never inclined to buy any new books on release day—not even those from my most beloved and admired authors. For one, with limited space on my bookshelf, I would wait until I had the physical space for a new acquisition. Second, I couldn’t always fit a trip to the bookstore into my schedule on that day. And third, I was never particularly good about keeping track of what got released when. Typically I would often find myself reading these books anywhere from six months to two years after a book’s release.

When companies like Amazon started offering preorders several years back, I still wasn’t inclined to hit the order button. After all, while the convenience factor was certainly there, Amazon still couldn’t single-handedly solve my limited shelf space. Not only that, but I still had a hard time keeping track of new books in the pipeline. Finally, I don’t consider my commute to be particularly hardcover friendly. Stuffed into a busy train, I’m usually lucky if I can get a seat. Oftentimes, bulky hardcovers are far too wieldy to maneuver with one hand, while the other holds onto a pole for dear life.

Yes, usually I’d be one of those readers who would wait for the paperback.

And then came ebooks.

Ever since I’ve had my ereader, I have become, much to my own surprise, an absolutely voracious preorderer. Within a month’s time, for example, I preordered three new titles: Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, and Broken Harbor by Tana French. All three titles are highly anticipated releases, but truthfully, had I not purchased them as ebooks, it is unlikely that I would have bought them on release day (or even during the same week!)


With ebook preorders, however, there is instant gratification in the truest sense of the phrase. Instant gratification that even same-day delivery for physical products can’t fulfill. Where I live, my mail doesn’t arrive until late afternoon or early evening anyway, and by that time, I won’t be home to receive my package until at least 6:30 p.m. or 7:00 p.m. On school nights? I won’t be home until about 11:00 p.m. Where’s the instant gratification in that?

But with an ebook preorder, I can have it the second I wake up. And I have it in tiny, digital, byte-size form. I can read it on my 30–45 minute morning commute, and I can read it during lunch break. Then I can read it on my evening commute home. All before I would have been able to get my hands on a physical preorder. And for some reason, the ability to read a new book so…instantly…encourages me to take advantage of ebook preorders more so than a preorder for a physical product.

Of course, instant gratification has its downsides. Namely, it’s an expensive habit. Forget the magic $9.99 that many still think is the ideal price point. But setting preorders aside for a moment, let’s talk briefly about the downloadable sample. With the option to download the first few pages of a title, many readers may choose to forego the preorder and instead download bits and bites of stories once available, probably saying something like, “I’ll read this later. If I like it, I’ll buy it when I’m ready to read it.”

But I would imagine many of those downloaded samples don’t actually turn into sales. (I have plenty of samples sitting on my ereader too, which serve as more accessible wish-list reminders than my actual wish list through Barnes & Noble.) Some of those samples I downloaded a long, long time ago, and they still haven’t converted into a purchase.

Despite these drawbacks, the ability to preorder and download titles the day of the release is a huge plus for ebook sales.  As someone who has never bothered with release day for front-list titles in the past, now I’m buying. And I’m buying big time.

How many of you readers are finding yourself jumping onto new releases like I am? If you’re not bitten by the preorder bug, what are some factors that deter you?

2 comments on “The power of preorders: Instant gratification

  1. jennagilligan
    July 30, 2012

    I definitely buy more books now with my ereader than I did before; I was always a wait-till-the-library-gets-it sort of reader. And now, it’s just so much easier (and, in some cases, still cheaper) to just download the ebook. And I don’t have to go anywhere to do it!

    What I wonder is this: how does the convenience of preordering ebooks affect bestsellers lists? A book has the best chance of hitting the list when all its media/buzz/hype is concentrated so sales all happen at once, too. But with the advent of the preorder, someone could buy the book a month before pub and that sale still counts as a pub week transaction. Before, you had to rely on people actually going to the store–and most of the time, people like you and me just didn’t. Now, though, if publishers build enough early buzz for the book–which we can do, since people now have a reliable way of hearing about a book and buying it before it’s available–we can start stacking preorders so as to have a better chance of becoming a bestseller. Making it both easier and harder to win one of those spots…more books theoretically would be able to get the sales necessary, but more books + the same amount of spots = more sales needed to achieve one. And so the bar moves ever higher.

  2. May 9, 2013

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This entry was posted on July 30, 2012 by in Culture and tagged , , , .

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