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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.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Space For Let?

So I spent some time down in DC this past weekend doing my grand bookstore tour for the first time in 7 months.  8 Borders, 1 Borders Express, 2 Borders Airport, 1 B. Dalton, Two Indies, 7 B&Ns.

These aren't stores I visit most often, because they're rather a distance from me.  But some of them are certainly stores I've been visiting regularly, at least once or twice a year, for a very very long period of time, 15 years or more.  There's been a B. Dalton in Union Station since forever, and it's one of the last Dalton standing.  The Borders in White Flint, 18th and L, and Pentagon City are the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Borders I ever visited (to put this in context, I'll get to my 200th on Monday August 10, so #2 is a long time ago).  So they're good places to see how things have changed over the years.

The big thing on this trip if watching as Borders tries to decide what to do with all of the music and movie space.  A lot of the DC stores are old big boxes that had a lot of space devoted to these categories that are now carried at most stores in markedly reduced quantities.  And a lot of the old big boxes had pretty big book sections.  So what do you do?

Well, one thing I don't like:  you remodel the store and shift things around, an you move the genre fiction section which has historically been front and center at the stores to heaven knows where.  Springfield, White Flint Mall, 14th & F and Friendship Heights have all moved their genre fiction sections away from the front section of the store.  This I don't like.

Some of the stores have been remodeled in such a way that they look almost as if they've always been this way.  14th & F looked pretty good.  But the White Flint mall store is so big that there's now so much space left in the store that they may as well move in a few foam mats and stage high school wrestling matches.

The expanded Teen sections called Borders Ink are probably a good idea.  The expanded toy and game sections are being ballyhooed now and these are probably a good idea.  But with so many stores designed to have so much space devoted to categories that are no longer working, that square footage will be a long term drain on the company, and maybe Borders will need to think more outside of the box on how to make this work.  B&Ns always had smaller sections at the stores that had, and in some cases are moving audio books into those sections to modestly increase book space, but Borders has to suffer the drag.

There were some inconsistent signs of the new customer service initiatives at the stores.  I felt genuinely fawned over at the Germantown Borders, but staff were hard to find on a quiet Saturday at the 18th & L location.

Moving on to other topics...  The Books a Million in Old Town Alexandria had 80 JABberwocky titles on the shelf, which is a clear new high for the chain.

I don't understand what B&N is up to with the Sookie Stackhouse books.  They have them, but considering they're bestselling books in surprisingly small quantity.  A typical B&N will have a good helping in the front of store new mass market range/bay, but often fewer than a lot of the other titles that are displayed there.  The sf/fantasy section will often have hardly any visible Sookies at all.  The typical Borders will have a helping in the front of store, a helping in the sf/f section, an endcap.  They're just much more visible.  B&N is overall a tighter ship and I'm sure is selling lots of Sookies, but I'm also sure they could be selling more if they were trying as hard as Borders is.  A Target can have as many Sookie books as a B&N, and I don't think I'd make that comparison at Borders.  Similarly, Borders tends to look much better stocked on Brandon Sanderson, with some stores showing recent MISTBORN reorders in the double digits while the typical B&N will just get and sell and reorder one copy.  Borders almost has to do this because they don't do routine replenishment as quickly as B&N, so maybe a B&N and Borders will both sell 10 Brandon Sanderson copies in 10 weeks, the Borders by ordering 12 of them and selling down while B&N replenishes its one standard stock copy week in and week out.  Still, B&N might have the higher stock price and the better sales right now, but I just have this gut feeling that B&N is missing upside by not taking bigger bets on my bigger authors.

B&N is dropping the trade paperback edition of Elizabeth Moon's SPEED OF DARK.  Borders is dropping Violette Malan's SLEEPING GOD right before they might show a sales spike with the release of the next books in the series.  Both decisions are clearly defensible from the Bookscan data, but I'm not happy with either.  Borders still tends to carry hardcovers longer, and we're coming to the point where THE WARDED MAN by Peter V. Brett will start to get hard to find at B&N while being visible at Borders perhaps thru the holidays.

For all the #s that Bookscan can deliver to my computer each week, it's still nice to get out and about in the field.


Xeb329 said...

They are remodeling the Mission Bay Borders in S.F., and they did just what you said: moved the SF/F section back from the front of the store.

Myke said...

I'm also a big fan of your field work, if only because it gives us a chance to hang out.