Are You Too Old to Buy Books?

I was really excited to attend Dan Ariely’s talk at the St. Louis County Library Headquarters tonight for several reasons:

  1. I rarely attend talks or lectures of any kind, much less on my own.
  2. I think Ariely is brilliant, as exemplified by the increase in the number of blog entries here about behavioral economics.
  3. Ariely published my short story, a fable, on his blog, which is read by tens of thousands of people.

I didn’t quite know what to expect. I knew Ariely is a bestselling author, but really, how many people were going to show up on at a library on a Monday night for a talk on an eclectic and somewhat controversial form of economics?

200+, it turns out.

There went my hopes for a small, round table discussion with Ariely, during which I could impress him with my intelligence and insight, perhaps garner instant admission into the program at Duke that he runs, which I would promptly and politely decline on the basis that Duke sucks (go UVa!)

But all was well, because Ariely is a great speaker, and he asks a lot of “show of hands” questions, so the more data, the better. He didn’t just stand up there and read from his new book, The Upside of Irrationality. In fact, he didn’t read from it at all. Instead, he shared a number of stories–both scientific and personal–relating to the benefits of irrationality. He particularly impressed me when he fielded questions and had amazing answers to every one. (My favorite involved a woman who said that women were different than men because women don’t seek revenge in the way that men do. Ariely replied, “Respectfully, I disagree–and not me personally. I just happen to have the data.”)

One interesting concept he talked about was that humans will almost always yield to the pleasures (or avoidance of pain) in the present despite the long-term implications in the future. He gave the example of eating fast food because it tastes good right now, even though we know about the negative long-term complications. I responded to this claim by picking up Hardees on the way home (how do you like them apples, Ariely?!)

Last, I noticed something interesting about the crowd at the lecture. There were a few young people there, even a few attractive women, but most everyone had their senior citizen discount in full swing. I’m talking 175 out of the 200 people there were 65+. That would say to the publisher in me that marketing to older people is the key to a bestseller.

However, when the lecture was over and the line for signing books formed, I noticed something interesting. Almost everyone in line was young or young-ish. I looked around at the throngs of people streaming for the exits, and I noticed that none of them had Ariely’s books in hand. The young people in line? Everyone had a copy.

What does this mean? That old people attend free lectures but don’t buy books? That young people understand that authors are only going to come to St. Louis if they sell something while they’re here? Or was it just a coincidence, an anomaly, a glitch in the Matrix?

What do you think?

7 thoughts on “Are You Too Old to Buy Books?”

  1. in general old people buy books on sale or utilize public services like the library more. young people want the SIGNATURE of the artist/writer/musician and buying art/books/music is the socially appropriate way to obtain said item.

    the library also has fabulous free movie screenings which are worth checking out.

  2. ‘the senior group’ has more time for lectures and even though they are senior they still hunger for intellectual stimulation. However Ariel is correct, when on a fixed income they would rather ‘free’ or ‘discount’. Older people are busy ‘cleaning out’ their book shelf not adding to it.

    You have done Ariely a service to peak an interest in his book. Are you getting any royalties?

    • Yes, I see that older people like things that are free or discounted, and they’re probably not adding to their book collection…but where do they think this money is coming from? Nothing is actually free.

  3. you are soooo right !! My daddy always said ‘there is never a free lunch’

    … only taxes that make these free 🙂 another idea for thought. Folks always want government to do “it” and who pays for government programs? I guess I am off topic.


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