Saturday, January 9, 2010

Book Sellers and Liquor Stores: What one can learn from the other.

I'd been wanting to do a survey of book stores in my area and although I didn't plan it, today was the start of that journey. I was primarily going to mention independent books stores as they are businesses I like to support, but in defense of the big boys who are helping to put the little guys out-of-business: their bargain book selection rocks.

I could be wrong, and I'll definitely look and ask about it when I visit independent books stores soon, but I don't think the independent stores can manage this angle of the publishing industry. I wish I could support writers to the fullest and pay every cent they ask for a book, but the reality is I read a lot, I abuse my library, and there is only so much I can really commit to my personal collection. So if it is something I just have to have on day one, like Elizabeth Kostova's The Swan Thieves (I didn't even know she had a new book coming out until this past Thrusday) I don't mind going to a local book seller and getting it… because that is a very rare act for me. But concerning my backlog of books that comprises my "to be read list…"

Books-a-Million really shines. There selection of bargain books is huge. I mean, really Huge. Some title were a couple years old, others were five to eight years old, everything I saw was in great condition, and the highest price paid was $6.99. An hour of browsing (tangent alert: does 'hour' get an, 'a' or an 'an'?) and $28.49 later I escaped with six hardback books. No shipping fees; negligible milage and gas expense.

Feeling as self-satisfied as I was, I walked into Barnes and Noble on the way home. It's not favoritism, but the difference between the industry giants was black and white. I'm only focusing on bargain books: their selection was tiny in comparison and the display was prohibitive. Upon leaving Barnes and Noble, which didn't take long, I was still happy and went to buy some rum. Upon entering your average run-of-the-mill liquor store everything about my book buying experience was apparent to me.

It's all about presentation. This is what Books-a-Million had a grasp on that Barnes and Noble was in the dark about. The former had all their bargain books displayed face front. It was fast shopping through their mammoth selection and easy on my eyes--making me more inclined to stay there longer. Barnes and Noble had all their bargain books with only the spine showing, making consumers squint at the hundreds of titles on a shelf.

Your bottom shelf--well--hooch is occupying a floor display and a lot of space, like Stephanie Meyer's books: its a huge seller and expedites shopping by making what's in demand readily available and easy to find. The Pevear and Volokhonsky translation of The Brothers Karamazov is tucked away on a bookshelf, not in the most traffic heavy part of the store, much like Cruzan's single barrel estate rum: not because the product isn't any good, rather is it niche. Books-a-Million has managed to apply this same simple logic to display it's bargain books. The ease of shopping combined with the quantity of what they had certainly won me over.

As to what I bought: Innocents Aboard by Gene Wolfe (a collection of short stories I'd never heard of) The Sun over Breda and The Kings Gold which will usher me into Arturo Perez-Reverte's writing--whose praise I can no longer ignore, M is for Magic, by Neil Gaiman, who I have a true love/hate relationship with, The book of Lost Things by John Connolly, (which I've already read, this copy was a gift) and Pickles to Pittsburgh, a children's books that was actually the most expensive purchase of the day.

I am very happy with myself today, and excited to find a similar happy inducing trait at local independent books stores in the future. Now, my master plan is to convince all liquor stores to sell the top shelf booze at the bargain bin price.

Any suggestions?

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