I was at my local library the other day (remember how you were supposed to go there??) and they were hosting a used/discarded book sale. Unable to resist the stacks and tables loaded with books, I started browsing. Somewhere between fourteen excess copies of The Firm and the occasional Ann Patchett or Cormac McCarthy it hit me: readers are fantastic! Readers get more opportunities out there than any other consumer, and we're smart enough to know our own tastes, share our opinions, and chose how we access books.
Best of all for readers is that there's no competition or party loyalty involved. If you absolutely adore J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter, there is NOTHING in this world that says you can't also enjoy Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games or E.B. White's Charlotte's Web. Readers of Jim Butcher can jump ship to Jackie Collins if they want to and never be thought a traitor. Just because you enjoy one author doesn't mean you're required to swear off all other authors. Being in love with William Faulkner's writing doesn't mean you can't dive into Stephen King.
As readers, we get the option to jump genres or authors and there're no casualties; all the authors win in being read, and the readers win in having such a choice.
Reading isn't like picking a cell phone plan or a car, we have the flexibility to move around. The little magical Matilda up there on her crate can read Moby Dick if she wants and then move on to any one of the fabulous Mo Willems books for children.
Readers also get to love and hate characters at will. Sure, the author can attempt to steer a reader toward loving Scout Finch, but in the end, it's the reader's choice as to whether or not the writer was successful.
Likewise, as readers our opinion decides if we like or dislike a book, not society. There's always going to be hype about the next big thing, but Twilight pretty much proved that hype only reaches so far, with some fans adoring the books while others hated them. Either way, there's joy in going with the crowd and being part of the excitement, but there's also power in standing out and saying, "you know what? I didn't like it," and then telling others why.
Readers also make a commitment to a story which isn't seen in a lot of other mediums. Sporting events, movies, and concerts can occupy a person for two, three, maybe four hours. Goodness knows we cry when movies go over three. But a reader is willing to spend upwards of twenty hours with just one book; this is why a book needs to be really good.
We also get a lot of options for how we chose to access books. Don't have time to sit and read, get an audiobook. Luggage a little heavy? Want to keep the coffee table clean? E-readers keep things compact. For me I love taking a good book in the tub, and for that I only use print editions. (I'm too afraid I'll drop the Kindle in the water, and the steam probably isnt' good for it either.)
So whether you prefer hardcover, paperback, e-reader, or audio, you then get the choice of where to get it: library, mega bookstore, indie bookstore, borrow from a friend, or buy online. And the publishing business will cater to readers to provide these various versions and their various ways to get them because without readers, there would be no business.
Readers are fantastic because we have the power to shift trends through reviews, book clubs, blogs, what we buy, and what we don't. We get access to the stories we want by whomever we want. We can change our minds and drop a book after page fifty or we can stick it out until page 900. Readers know what they like and when you adore a book, you can gush to the world and increase readership of a favored author.
The vastness of readers' tastes and preferences for stories means everyone wins. Authors from romance to sci-fi can write what they love. Publishers can turn a profit while making books accessible in print and online. And the fantastic readers get to enjoy the ride.