About Me

A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

selective reading

The Wall St. Journal had an article this week about the slow return of guns to the shelves at Wal-Mart. (no link, since hides behind their pay wall.)

Ordinarily an article like this would meet with my scorn and approbation. I am not a gun person.

But there was a sentence in the article that I enjoyed very much reading. It said that Wal-Mart -- and for all its power Wal-Mart has struggled a bit in the US in recent years, trying to broaden its appear without particular success and then struggling along with its customers during the economic difficulties of the last two years -- was starting to return things like guns and sewing cloth to its stores because it came to realize that these slow-moving items were more important to generating customer traffic with its core customers than they had appreciated.

And this made me feel better about one of my passionately held beliefs about Borders, that the major blow to the chain came in spring 2008 when the company reduced title counts at its stores. How can I possibly think that dropping titles that might have sold so few copies would be the killing blow? But I did, I do, I always will, and it's that sentence in that WSJ article this week that sums it up. No, the books hardly sold worth a damn, but the customers who did buy deep into the catalog were important customers.

Some differences which I think made this effect even more important to Borders. I think the customers who didn't buy the books still kind of noticed them, and that their presence enhanced the overall impression of the brand, more than is the case for these items Wal-Mart is returning to the shelves. And more important, there are still guns and sewing cloth to sell so Wal-Mart can turn back the clock and stop selling them. The deep catalog advantage at the best Borders was built up over a fifteen or twenty year period, and many of the books Borders stopped selling went out of print and bye-bye without Borders to sell them, making it harder to just put them back on the shelf after a year or two away. It's also one thing for books that don't sell a lot of copies to justify continuing to sell them here or there as a matter of happy inertia, and another thing to decide to get back in the business of selling books that don't really sell all that well.

Bottom line is that when George Jones was saying on conference calls in the quarters following the reduction in title count that he ordered that same store book sales were down by 13% and we think a few points of it is from overdoing the drops in title count, I think he was underestimating the real impact of what he had done.

1 comment:

Mary Holland said...

It's similar to the graffiti removal on buildings. You don't notice exactly why the area looks better and why you have a better feel when you hang out, but it can precipitate other positive changes.
I stopped by one of our small local bookstores a month ago and their SF paperback section was very scanty. Their new SF hardback titles were two books. Two. It was depressing and I won't be going back. Don't any of these buyers know about "the long tail"?