Slice of Life
By – Sheri de Grom
With an adrenaline rush, I stepped into my local Barnes & Noble bookstore the Thursday after Thanksgiving. I’d double-checked every title and author on my list and was confident I’d leave the store with fourteen spectacular reads. My Christmas shopping was finished and the presents were wrapped—the fourteen books on the list were all for me!
Hubby had his own wish list, but he normally comes away from the bookstore with art and other professional journals, each costing more than any novel. He’s a library and Amazon man for his fiction reading pleasure.
Our local forecast was for ice and snow and then more ice. The weather man warned to lay in supplies. Our pantry was full; the dogs eyed us carefully and were planning on extra lap time. They’d seen us get out the heavy afghans and I’m convinced they know that equates to hugs, snugs, and not a human wiggle to disturb them. All was good at our house.
We’d already planned a quiet holiday season and I was eager to add newly-released books to my always increasing ‘to be read’ shelves.
My reading plan was to spree read until the New Year and then I’d embark on a newly-revised reading wish list searching for the most promising reads for my 2013 weekly book review blog.
But as I strolled through the bookstore, I was alarmed as I browsed the various pyramids, tables and shelves. Anger built within my heart. Having worked as a buyer and bookseller for Barnes & Noble for two years and being familiar with publishers paying for stock placement, things didn’t look good.
The promotions were almost one-hundred percent for books that had been published six months to a year earlier. They’d all reached bestseller status and some had remained strong throughout the year.
There were the usual huge Nook displays, Christmas cards, wrapping paper, 2013 calendars, etc. But where were the new releases on my list? When I speak of the sought-out new releases, these included novels that should have been in the store a minimum of one month. All the titles were selling well and I’d have thought some had promotion money behind them.
I double-checked the customer inventory computer only to discover not one of the books on my list were available on the sales floor.
In hopes not all was lost, I decided to wait around for the lead stockroom manager to go on break. I knew from previous conversations we’d had that his permanent employees were gone and the store had rehired younger, high-school age employees but hadn’t provided the appropriate training. The younger stockroom employees don’t understand the importance of getting books out of the back and onto the buying floor.
The average bookstore consumer today is far different than the customer of the early 2000s. Back then, the consumer wasn’t as hurried and stores always had more knowledgeable (well-read) staff working the floor. That’s rarely the case now. Even if a staff member is working the floor, they seldom know where anything is and have no idea of how to hand sell a book when they do find it.
But let’s get back to my list of fourteen novels. I finally went to the appropriate sections of the store where I was sure I’d find each book shelved, but it wasn’t there. I had to give the customer computer the benefit of the doubt. It had been wrong before. I searched around on the shelves, thinking perhaps someone had put it back in the wrong place—but no such luck.
Three hours later, and many conversations with other customers, my enthusiasm was running low. I was tired of seeing entire shelves donated to James Patterson (with multiple copies of the first book he’d written along with far too many of his latest), Danielle Steele, E.L. James, and many other books I had no interest in purchasing. I wanted the fourteen books on my list. The ones that promised to provide me food for thought and break-out writing. The fresh voices we’re always hearing agents say they want to find. Plus I had three debut authors on my list that warranted attention.
As a last-ditch effort, I went to the service desk to reassure myself that I read the computer correctly, and, sure enough, Barnes & Noble did not have a single book on my list in stock. Books I had prepared to purchase that day. Yes, the sales associate offered to order all fourteen books and ship them free of charge—but I declined.
I asked once again to see the store manager. I’d spoken to this same manager several times over the past seven years and always receive insight on what’s actually going on in the stores in our district.
I asked him why they weren’t stocking books that were already selling well. He told me they had to push the stock the publishers were putting the big dollars into and, this year, that happened to be their authors with the year-after-year proven track record.
I asked further about the new titles on my list, and said, “None of these well-received titles are on the shelves. Can you tell me why?”
I wasn’t prepared for his reply. “The titles on this list will probably remain special order titles only. This store along with several hundred others has been revamped. We’re expanding into more toys and educational materials.”
I’d seen that for myself on previous visits to the store: the shrinkage of actual book shelf space, the addition of row-upon-row of educational toys and materials, and the absence of the easy chairs many of us had become accustomed to in days-gone-by.
I’d always loved walking through the stores in the days I worked for Barnes & Noble and seeing regular customers in the big, comfy chairs grouped here and there. Some customers felt free enough to move a chair to another location in the store and others would group them into conversation circles. Often, when certain individuals arrived at the bookstore and someone was in “their chair” the individual in the chair would find a different place to sit. Alas, those days are over and I miss them. The retail dollar has to remain strong but I’m not convinced toys—even slick educational toys—will save a book store.
I’ve purchased the Barnes & Noble membership card each year since it was originally issued but I’m not convinced it’s a bargain in today’s consumer market. I originally saved well-over a hundred dollars each time I visited the chain but that’s no longer the case.
Yes, the Barnes & Noble membership affords me free shipping but isn’t that perk supposed to be for the one or two books that you want to round out your stack—not your entire, double-digit wish list. When I walk out of my local Barnes & Noble store empty-handed, I have to wonder if I should even renew my membership.
I’ve always purchased my books new and at a bookstore. But on this particular occasion, I came home and ordered my fourteen books using Amazon Prime. They cost me less than they would have at Barnes & Noble, shipping was free, and they were on my doorstep in two days.
That said, I’m not happy. I adore browsing through the shelves of brick-and-mortar bookstores. Unfortunately, I can’t help keep them afloat if they can’t fulfill at least some of my needs as an avid reader in today’s market. They don’t have to have all the books I want, but I do need to walk out with at least a third of my list. I’d be happy to order the remainder from Amazon, so long as I have a new selection to chose from when it comes time to read that night.
I still get a thrill when I can actually pick up a book, decide to buy it and bring it home with me. There’s another thrill when I move it to the front of my ‘to be read’ pile. Perhaps that’s the inner child in me, but I do want it my way.