Monday, February 28, 2011

Books alone are not enough

I'm down with e-books, I guess, if that's where we're headed.  But this really depresses me.
“The national bookstore chain has peaked as a sales channel, and the growth is not going to come from there,” said David Steinberger, chief executive of the Perseus Books Group. “But it doesn’t mean that all brick-and-mortar retailers are cutting back.” 
A wide range of stores better known for their apparel, food and fishing reels have been adding books. The fashion designer Marc Jacobs opened Bookmarc in Manhattan in the fall. Anthropologie has increased the number of titles it carries to 125, up from 25 in 2003. Coldwater Creek, Lowe’s, Bass Pro Shops and even Cracker Barrel are adding new books. Some mass retailers, too, are diversifying — Target, for instance, is moving away from male-centered best sellers and adding more women’s and children’s titles this year.
Cracker Barrel.  Cracker Barrel.  We have arrived, it appears, at a moment when a book is roughly equivalent to a roll of masking tape--a more or less interchangeable commodity that you can buy at any one of many retailers.  But a place to immerse yourself fully in it?  A place that curates it?  A place where anybody knows anything about it?  Nope.

If you had told me in the late nineties that Amazon customer comments would eventually be one of the only remaining sources of generalized literary expertise in the world, I would have laughed at you, then gotten a funny look on my face, then said oh my god, then retreated to a corner to whimper.  But maybe that's where we're at.

11 comments:

Ginger said...

If Anthropologie is selling ikat prints, it might feature books with ikat covers, or it will carry books about inspiration and poetry to get the customer in an escapist mood.

“As we try to get them excited about different ideas as they walk in the door, books can be a tremendous way to narrate those stories,” said Aaron Hoey, head merchant for home and accessories at Anthropologie.


I find this bit particularly rage-inducing. It's like listening to some asshole talk about how to manipulate a woman's emotions to get her to put out. It's like a big, institutionalized version of that.

Jennifer said...

I understand your concern, but I think you might be worrying more than you should.

If retailers like Anthropologie stock enough books, they will need to bring on a book buyer, or at least seek out a book lover on staff to make purchases. All you need is one person to decide that Castle, for example, would appeal to the artistic sensibilities of their customers and suddenly you have your highly crafted, independent press-published work of literary fiction on the shelves in however many stores, with only 20 or 30 other books competing for shoppers' attention. It's the Oprah effect writ large, right? And sure, tastes will probably run rather pedestrian (as Oprah's did) but some good books will sneak in, too.

The first time I saw The Elegance of the Hedgehog at Target I about died. A novel by a French philosopher in a big box store (in the suburban midwest, no less)? I dare say that's not a bad thing.

jrlennon said...

You might be right, but of course individual Anthropologie stores will not hire their own book buyers. The whole chain will hire exactly one, I suspect, and that person will determine what books all the stores stock. And I'd imagine the buyers choices will be dictated by sales potential or an "escapist mood," not personal taste, let alone obsession.

Pete said...

So what if retailers choose to decorate their store with books? That's a blip in book sales. You're mourning the loss of the physical book. I say: who cares. The internet has brought me far more book-wise than it's destroyed. For example: without the internet, I never would have heard of J Robert Lennon. Now I read him nearly every day. Also, I now can press a button and JRL's books arrive at my door a few days later. What's depressing about that?

Pete said...

....I just notieced, even that comment is dated.... Jeez...

I press a button, and JRL's books APPEAR IN MY FREAKIN' HAND INSTANTLY.

jrlennon said...

Ha! You're right of course. I'm certainly not complaining about internet book sales--but I'm saddened by what the physical bookstore has come to.

rmellis said...

It's the idea of books as accessories that's depressing to me. Have you ever been to a Cracker Barrel gift shop? It's full of stuff you'd never ever buy except maybe to distract yourself from the fact that you're trapped in a Cracker Barrel. It's like, though you'd never actually go to a book store (they're all closing anyway), you might be tricked into buying a book if its cover matched that hip new gypsy skirt on the rack over there. Or if you're hungry and there's a line at the CB, you might like to read a cozy novel filled with apple pie recipes or some such shit.

Gah. I doubt these non-book retail establishments could ever sell enough books to affect what gets published, but can you imagine if they did?

Are YOUR books Cracker-Barrel friendly?

Anonymous said...

Move over Nicholson Baker. Now I can finally publish my first novel!

Please look for "Rockin' Out With Grandpa: Lessons Learned On An Oversized Chair"

Topics include:
- Takin' it easy
- Biscuits 'n Gravy
- Grandma (Of course!)
- Corn cob pipe smokin'
- Gingham
- Cork and string six shooters
- A dog named Marmelade
- And much, much, more!

This is disheartening.

- violentbore (undergoing unexpected gmail difficulties)

jrlennon said...

Ha ha haaaa where's the like button??

Anonymous said...

This is a rich topic.

But this morning I was just thinking that it is primarily the internet and internet-related sites that are inspiring the revolutionary youth movements. I have noticed myself wanting to read mixed media texts more; I seem to need imagery and words.

On a different note, please cheer yourselves and read this wonderful short article about reading dogs:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2011/feb/28/dogs-listen-to-children-reading

-Nancy F.

Adalena said...

When I worked in special sales in publishing part of my job was researching stores or retail locations that didn't normally sell books and then try to get them to stock books. So if there was a dog book I'd have to call pet grooming places. If there was a play on, I'd try to sell them the play they were producing. That was in 2001.

I wasn't aggressive enough, but then again, I didn't really want to be in sales anyway.

I used to scoff when I saw the books on Urban Outfitters tables but I suppose it's become so common I've become immune.

Interestingly, an agent told me that you can't write a book "for Urban Outfitters" because the sales wouldn't be enough to justify publishing the book. You still have to imagine an audience wider than that which shops at a store like Urban Outfitters.