I had to go to a coupla-times-each-year Jacques Schiff Jr auction to even have an opportunity to buy Columbian plate proofs
A point worth noting. Because of online auctions, the market on stamps is much more realistic, and items we once thought scarce are often times not. In the aforementioned case of Columbian plate proofs, these stamps are not only available every day of the year to us, the prices are competitive because we are not limited to twice-a-year auctions!
OTOH to both, it is so much easier to DIY research
Yes, indeed! This very point, I believe, will help philately in the long run. I love the fact that the resources are available to everyone to become informed, if not experts in their field of collecting at the click of a mouse.
This forum, and the members in it, are collectively the best source of information I have ever known, or could ever hope for!
Is it just me, or do many people seem to enjoy shopping & buying more than they enjoy searching & reading?
Depends on my mood that day. Some days I just want to enjoy a nice stamp for what it looks like. I specialize, but still buy stamps outside of my specialization just because I like them.
Other times, I enjoy the process of research and/or flyspeccing.
I think that most of us enjoy having a healthy balance of both!