Updated on 03.08.10

The Cult of the New

Trent Hamm

2010 has seen a ton of books released already that I’d love to read, from The Politician by Andrew Young to The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. (I happen to be passionate about books, of course – perhaps your passion is films or video games or gadgets or music or something else entirely.)

Five years ago, I would have rushed to the bookstore and picked up these titles in hardback. I would have been completely impatient to read them, so I would have just thrown down the $20 or so, picked up the hardback, and headed home with it. About twenty percent of the time, I would have read the book once, stuck it back on a shelf somewhere, and ignored it as it gathered dust. The other eighty percent of the time, I wouldn’t even have read it before it started gathering dust on the shelf.

Why did I do this? There were several factors – I didn’t have the time I wanted to have to read, for one – but the biggest one was what I like to call the “cult of the new.”

Simply put, the “cult of the new” is the willingness to pay a premium price for whatever the newest releases are. When something new comes out, you’re inordinately focused on it because it’s new. It pops up again and again.

If a new restaurant opens, you have to visit it even if the reviews are mediocre.
If a new book or album comes out, you have to pick it up.
If a new car is released, you can’t help but swing by the dealership to scope it out.

It’s a very expensive routine. You constantly overpay for things in terms of their actual quality – instead, you pay a premium for the “new.” You pay new release prices for DVDs and for film tickets. You pay hardcover prices for books. And, in the end, you get far less for your dollar – or you dig yourself into a financial hole.

Some people do it with some level of social justification – they need to keep up with (or keep ahead of) their friends. To them, I say that if your friends value you only because of what’s on your shelves or where you ate last night, there’s not much depth to the friendship.

Others do it to feel good about themselves, so that they feel current. This is perhaps even more dangerous, because you’re tying your self-esteem and happiness to material things and short-term experiences. Without a constant influx of these things, you begin to feel bad about yourself. True self-worth comes from within, not from external things, and it took me a very long (and painful) time to learn that lesson.

It took me years to break out of the “cult of the new.” Here are some of the things that really helped me.

I adopted a firm rule about buying such new things – I don’t. Excepting gifts for others, I simply don’t buy new releases, period. I don’t pick up books for myself until they’re in paperback. If I do happen to read a hardback I like enough to keep around for multiple readings, I still wait until the paperback comes out.

If I truly must read something that’s brand new, I visit the library. I’m a very heavy user of our local library’s book reservation system. Yes, sometimes I don’t get hot new releases in the first month they’re out. However, I do get them eventually and, quite often, I get them faster than I expect (because other readers check them out for much shorter periods than expected). You can do the same thing with movies – sign up early to rent a new release from Netflix, for example.

I also swap frequently with my friends. If I do receive a book as a gift that I think a friend will like, I loan it out. Similarly, they’ll loan their new releases to me. This way, a new release given to me as a gift is often like two or three of them, since I have friends with which I share interests and can trust in terms of swapping books. One’s social network, if filled with compatible, good people, can be a very valuable resource.

I learned to love exploring the archives. If I find an author I like, for example, it’s much cheaper to dig through his or her older books than it is to charge out and buy the new releases. Take Richard Russo, an author I discoverd a few years ago (and subsequently hooked my mother on). Rather than rushing out and buying myself his newest work in hardback, I used PaperBackSwap to read a multitude of his older novels. The cost for these older books was trivial, but I was still able to deeply and fully enjoy his writing without paying that “new” premium. I explored Douglas Coupland in a very similar fashion.

When I finish a book (or a game, or a movie…), I first turn to my own shelves. I don’t insist on finding the thing I want to read/play/listen to already on my shelf, but quite often I find it anyway. I’ll spy a book that just speaks out to me, saying “read me…” in its own special way. So I pick it up and I suddenly have free entertaiment that I’m deeply enjoying.

Some set of these techniques work no matter which form of the new you’re chasing, whether it’s restaurants or trading cards. Whatever it is, if you can seek out other avenues for your passion than the shiny new thing, you’ll almost always receive a big thank you from your wallet.

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  1. Stacey says:

    so true about the public library. i live in a very small town (less than 2,000 people) and we use our little city library several times a week. if my children want to rent a movie, i go there and get one of the 30 or so dvd’s they have instead of heading to the video rental store.
    I have friends in metro areas who NEVER use the public library. Makes me so sad… if only those large resources were available to my family! So many people in this country have no idea what is available to them in the form of public resources.

  2. Honey says:

    I have certain authors or products that I want new, but most things I wait for the paperback or even for the paperback to make its way to the used bookstore.

    I collect Stephen King hardbacks, for example, and have read my Jean Auel books so many times that I’m on my second hardback for some in the series because I’ve read them so many times I wore the first one out! And if a new vegan restaurant opened, I’d probably want to go asap because I’m veggie and there aren’t a lot of those where I live.

    But most other things, I can wait until I receive it as a gift or until it’s available in a cheaper form.

  3. Alan says:

    When someone produces a product you like or provides exceptional service, doesn’t it make sense to invest your money in encouraging that more products or services of the same kind are made – by purchasing them?
    I consider buying the latest book or CD by my favorite author or artist as my own personal form of applauding and shouting “Bravo” – expressed in concrete and bankable terms. And I usually buy them (if possible) directly from the author’s website to ensure they make as much as possible from the sale.
    Doing this helps ensure that the artist will continue providing me with enjoyment.
    It all comes down to what we choose to invest in, though, correct? Our opinions, our tastes:
    De gustibus non disputandem est, et cetera…

  4. Craig Ford says:

    Our family made a policy tha we won’t buy anything new until we have made at least one trip to teh second hand store or searched for the product used online. This one decision has saved us a lot of money because our default was alwasy to look for items new.

  5. Johanna says:

    On the flip side, there’s what I guess you could call the “cult of bargain hunting.”

    The clothes, books, and CDs that I’ve bought at full price are the ones I tend to use most often, since I don’t buy them unless I’m sure I really want them. It’s the stuff I’ve picked up from the remainder bins, the clearance racks, and the secondhand stores that’s more likely to sit around unused, because I’ll buy something at a discount even if I’m not 100% sure I want it. Worst of all are the books that I’ve gotten for free at work – I don’t think I’ve read a single one of them all the way through.

    And a funny story: My father and I are both fans of Edward Rutherfurd. When I heard about Rutherfurd’s new book coming out last fall, I asked my father if he might want it for Christmas. He said, “Sure, but only if you can get it in paperback. I don’t think hardcovers are worth the money, and I only get them if they’re used.” So I bought the hardcover, new, and read it myself. Then I gave it to my father for Christmas, saying, “Don’t worry – I’ve read it already, so it’s used now.”

  6. Snowy Heron says:

    Another option for books and cds is buying them used at Amazon. I don’t buy books too often since I would have to move out of my house if I did, but if there is one on an esoteric subject that I can’t find in the library, then used from Amazon works well. As for music, a lot of times the cds that I buy used are less than the cost of downloading the songs onto my ipod, even including the shipping. And even for gifts, I have told my daughters that a used book or cd from Amazon is just as good as new for me, as far as I am concerned.

  7. Maureen says:

    I don’t usually buy books immediately after release. The exception to this would be books we have been impatiently waiting for. The anticipation for the last Harry Potter book, for example, was so great that we bought 2 copies the first day. The whole family devoured them within a few days. I know they will be reread and saved for the next generation.

  8. KC says:

    Don’t forget about libraries that may be nearby. My neighboring county has a fantastic library and they give me a free card. Sure, I have to spend time and gas money driving there, but often I’m in that city anyway. Plus as much as I read it’s money well spent. Even if they charged a small fee to get a card (since I’m not part of their tax base) I’d likely fork it over as I save $100s annually using their services.

  9. Kevin says:

    After canceling cable, I now use Hulu, Netflix and an antenna to fill the void.

    When I see a promo for a new movie playing in the theater that looks interesting I just go to the Netflix Web site and save it into my queue. They seem to have all the movies that are currently in theaters. This helps me know I’ll see it, and curtails the need to see it “new” in the theater.

  10. triLcat says:

    There’s a difference between wanting to know what’s new and wanting to have what’s new. There’s nothing wrong with going and looking at the newest IPod Touch or the newest book or whatever the day it’s released. The poor choice is when you spend the money because you must have it now and you can’t wait a little while even though there’s no actual reason that you need it now.

  11. Eve says:

    I don’t think wanting to keep current is necessarily a sign of shallow friendships. To save money, I got rid of my TV (no more temptation to buy things in the commercials) and stopped going to movies in theaters (Netflix was good enough for me). My friends are still my friends, of course, because yes, my friendships are deeper than that.

    But it is harder to connect and network and make small talk with coworkers and strangers, those more distant but still important nodes in my social network. I used to be able to chat about an interesting segment from a morning show, or laugh about a funny line from a commercial, share an opinion about the trailer for an upcoming flick, or show a passing familiarity with the current reality show contestants (even though I never actively followed those shows). My close friends all get their news online and read library books like I do, but not everyone does that. If you’re “current,” especially on TV and movies, it gives you small talk conversation topics (beyond the weather) whether you’re chatting with a new neighbor, a receptionist at the dentist’s office, a mechanic, a young entrepreneur at a business mixer, whoever.

  12. Tammy says:

    I generally prefer to purchase new books because then, and only then, do the authors get paid. I will most likely wait for the paperback – I find hardcovers cumbersome to cary around and read – but I know a LOT of authors and I do my best to support them and their efforts. Any used book sales and paperback swap and such don’t help them earn out and get paid. Once I’m done reading, I generally donate it to our small local library. It has nothing to do with the ‘cult of the new’, but with supporting folks who write things I love and would prefer to keep writing.

  13. Leah says:

    When a new book comes out that I want to read, I just place a hold on it through my public library. I usually get books pretty quick; the most popular ones also have the most copies being loaned out. I got The Happiness Project in a week, and it just took two days to get the first Percy Jackson book. I think I’ve bought just a few books in the last few years, and those are mostly professional references that I want to keep on hand.

  14. mandolin says:

    Good Post!

    I rarely buy new anything but I also rarely visit the library. I find it very hard to avoid late fees at the library…plus they rarely have anything new in English and when they do it is rented.

    So I started buying in bulk from bookcloseouts.com when they have 1.00 clearance sales. I give away the books that end up not being useful.

    I still have yet to buy a flat screen TV and I buy a lot of household stuff used. I buy clothes at the end of the season when sales are doubled so I end up getting great stuff for a bargain.

    I did buy an Wii, an ipod touch, and an irobot vacuum, which were all well researched and purchased on sale. They were well worth the investment.

    I don’t understand the excitement of the NEW unless it promises some specific benefit to your life you can explain. There are a million good films and books I have yet to read or watch. There are great TVs that just are not flat screens. I think a lot of it is advertisements. We need less advertisements & less stuff and more social interaction. Atleast I think anyway.

  15. To me, “the cult of the new” plays a big role in many peoples’ financial struggles. To some, it almost seems like an addiction.

    I never have, nor will I ever, suffer from this addiction.

    I think my only addiciton is waiting and waiting and waiting for the lowest price on something. Then when I pull the trigger, two weeks later I’m upset cuz I found it for less.

  16. triLcat says:

    @mandolin: the question is whether you buy the wii the week it came out or the week the prices dropped…
    That’s the difference between the cult of the new and the person who wants something really fun and really cool…

  17. Liz says:

    Trent,you are correct about using the public library. However, I have taken it one step further. My public library has a service that allows me to download audiobooks for free into my MP3 player. I have a makeshift docking port so I can listen to the books without earbuds. It works very well for me, plus it makes doing my chores much more pleasurable.

  18. Steffie says:

    Don’t forget your local little theater for movies, usually a couple of bucks. Colleges and Art Musuems sometimes show movies too. Not always first run but usually good. There is still just something about going to the movies, eating the big, bad for you, tub of buttered popcorn and seeing the movie on the ‘big screen’ the way it was made to be seen. We do it about every six to eight weeks, usually an action movie with lots of noise. Build the ‘new’ into the budget and it is not a bad thing. Again it is about finding balance and how you are willing to spend your hard earned money.

  19. Moby Homemaker says:

    Two things I have learned since I was unceremoniously laid off by Shmoldman Shmachs….
    1) There is no more “cult of the new” for me.
    2) The library RULES! I just got the best comedy dvd I’ve seen in recent memory, “Black Dynamite” there. Books, cds and movies–for FREE!

  20. Millie says:

    When I see a book that I want, I go to amazon and put it on my wish list. That way if someone wants to get it for me as a gift, there is the suggestion. It’s also a good place to keep the list instead of cluttering up my computer desk (which is cluttered enough and I couldn’t find the list anyhow). Also, when I put a new book on the wish list, I check the others. Many times they have come up used by that time and for just a little shipping, I can have that book. I have been watching one horse book for ages and the price is finally coming down and I’m seeing used ones crop up now and then. Sometimes I check the list and see which are the older books and then can check my local used book stores for them and then I don’t have to pay any shipping at all!

  21. You mention that people’s desire to buy things new stems from social reasons (keeping up with the Joneses) or self-esteem reasons (to feel current).

    I think another big part of why people want to buy things new, though, is simply instant gratification. For example, buying that new book in hardcover *not* to impress friends or feel like you have the latest thing, but because it’s a book you’re interested in reading and you don’t have the impulse control to wait.

  22. DivaJean says:

    I agree with KM @ Long Distance Life- Cult of the New is just a way of rephrasing “keeping up with the Joneses.”

    I like to think of my entertainment choices in movies- seen on cable or via library- as having been properly vetted by others. I can get a good feeling as to whether its really worth my time from those who are in the cult of the first. Most movies out there don’t make the cut. I tend to appreciate classics more than new- and I abhor remakes unless something unique can brought to the table (worst case scenario would be the recent remake of “The Women.”).

    As for books, I have my regulars that I practically subscribe to- and as others have said above, I don’t mind giving my financial support to as a tribute to their work. For me, it would be Jean Auel, Margaret Atwood, Gregory Macquire, and Armistead Mauphin. Thankfully, none of these authors churn out dozens of books a year so its a pittance to keep in good literature. I test the water on other authors via library.

    One thing I do notice is not participating in too many conversations that the cult of the new members have. (Unless its telepvision- I do keep up with some new shows there. ) However, it might not be a bad thing to not ascribe to their cult values.

  23. Kevin says:

    Cult of the new is nothing new. I would argue that it’s something that goes back decades to post-WWII marketing. After the war, consumerism rose greatly as workers, soldiers and their family spent to get their lives back in order. Fridges, for example, became more affordable as they went into mass production after the war. Families would buy in and that would be the end of that (these were sturdy fridges built to last afterall). However once a fridge was purchased, there was no reason to buy another and spending would drop off. That is until marketers began selling the message that you need the latest, new best thing. It didn’t matter whether whether what you had did the job already. No, you had to get the next best thing… and decades later, we’re still here hearing and feeling that same thing as consumers.

  24. graytham says:

    Great post, and I’m also a Richard Russo fan. I made my husband read “Empire Falls” and now he’s hooked too.

  25. Debbie M says:

    Ha! I am the opposite. I am distrustful of something new. I want to let other people try it out, first. I want to wait until the new restaurant has a chance to get organized and until the new technology prices come down and bugs are worked out. I feel guilty because if everyone were like me, no one would make anything new, a terrible tragedy!

    I like listening to my friends go on about how great some new thing they just got is. I get to learn the easy way (well, a cheap and fun way) if this is something that might be of interest to me. Again, there is guilt because I am generally not finding exciting new things to share with them.

    I so try to see movies when they first come out if they get good reviews and if I feel the film makers could really use the money (i.e., independent films are more likely to get my money than blockbusters). On the other hand, I also get talked into new movies if they are 3-D.

    @Alan, by buying things used, you are creating a market for used things and thus helping other people talk themselves into buying things they aren’t sure about. So, you’re indirectly still helping the creators.

  26. Lisa says:

    I keep a list in my purse of books, new releases and not so new, and look in the used book store each time I go. Its like a mini treasure hunt. My mothers friend has hundreds of dollars of credit and she put me on her account. She is 87yr and said she’ll never spend all her credit. I am very picky with her credit. I also use 30% off coupons at Borders and gift cards to pay for new books. I only buy if I plan to keep it for a decade or more. Otherwise its the library for me.

  27. Diane says:

    Fiction and non-fiction I don’t buy new – I use the library for that. But cookbooks? Those I have a jones for and must have hundreds of them. I typically buy them new.

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