Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Where Have All the Books Gone?

I look forward to walking into my neighborhood bookstores at the beginning of every week, spending half an hour walking around the tables to see what the new books are, asking the clerks what seems to be selling the best and what books have been unexpected surprises. Fortunately I live in an area stocked with some great independants and chains and I try to split my time accordingly. I'm definitely that guy in the store who stands in front of the tables for far too long and makes feral noises at people who try to invade my bubble.

Recently, though, the last few times I've walked into my neighborhood chain I've hard a mighty hard time even getting to the new paperback tables. The reason? The new paperback tables are crammed against the window with barely enough room for a poodle to squeeze through without holding its breath. It's not that there aren't enough tables--it's that the best locations have been given up to board games, puzzles, and other knickknacks that allegedly have "higher margins" than books.

Up front by the cash register, the chains always used to have racks of mass market paperbacks. Customers on line would pick up one or two, flip through them, maybe make an impulse buy on a book that look particularly savory. Now? Those paperbacks are gone, replaced by Travel Scrabble and "Grow Your Own Bonsai Tree" kits.

What the heck is going on? Aren't these bookstores? If I want to check out the new paperback fiction table, I shouldn't have to leave my briefcase at home lest I worry about turning around and knocking over half the stacks.

I have no problem with bookstores housing other kinds of products. I really don't. And I can't claim that a good game of Scrabble works your brain any less than some books (especially since I'm embroiled in a year-long Scrabble tournament with someone who shall remain nameless but has a tendency to make up words like "Quertido").

But a bookstore, in my humble opinion, should make its primary focus--and offer its best placement--to books. Literature has a hard enough time getting a fair shake these days, with the amount of coverage dwindling by the minute. Bookstores are the hallowed ground. And the last thing we need is for our reading to take a backseat to the 40th anniversary edition of Yahtzee.

5 Comments:

Blogger pattinase (abbott) said...

I notice the same thing in the Detroit area. Sidoku books have replaced the new hardback book section and anime action figures the new paperbacks.

10:37 AM  
Blogger adrienne said...

I think this is a pretty common trend. I don't mind all the other stuff they sell in the stores, in fact I quite enjoy them. But I prefer it if they are placed on a different level, or at the back, and not right as you come in. But I understand why they do it, those items probably sell extremely well.

3:56 PM  
Blogger Dee said...

And so the death of the midlist author continues. As the space left on those tiny tables will only be for the megasellers.

What happens when they are only a 100 viable authors left writing all the books for the masses?

Good thing Nora Roberts is prolific.

4:27 PM  
Blogger DanStrohschein said...

Amen brother. I notice this mostly in the HUGE MEGA-LOW-MART type stores (Books-a-Million, Walden, Borders).

Like Dee said, what happens when there are only 100 authors left? The public screams and complains because they want more variety, and then the market builds back up again. Supply and Demand, Cyclical market swing - whatever you call it. The midlist will return.

That is, if people would turn off the TV with the 300 channels, get away from the computer, and power down the video games long enough to sit down and appreciate the written word again.

7:29 AM  
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