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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Face Front, True Believer!

posted by on March 18 at 12:06 PM


The Millions has a good analysis of a Wall Street Journal story about Borders’ recent announcement that they’re going to face out many more books.

The rationale behind this maneuver is pretty obvious—any author or anyone who’s worked in a bookstore can tell you that books facing cover-out sell more copies faster than books that are spine-out. But the flipside is that too many face outs make a bookstore look like it’s going out of business. Even if the shelves are packed, the eye registers the high number of face outs and perceives the shelves as lacking in selection.

The other thing pointed out in the post, though, is that Borders is probably going to get a lot of co-op money for facing books out. A lot of customers don’t realize that every display in a chain bookstore, except for maybe a few employee recommend shelves in an out-of-the-way place, is paid for by the publisher, like the cereal aisle in a supermarket (hence The Millions’ name for the face out plan: The Froot Loop Gambit.)

This means, though, that the quality of books on display will be questionable: They’ll either be extremely popular books that you’ve heard of already thanks to overaggressive publishers’ publicity departments, or they’ll be struggling titles that the publisher is pumping money into so they don’t lose their shirts on them. Neither one is really an ideal face out. If Borders follows this policy and doesn’t diverge from it if sales turn out to suffer because it needs the cash influx from publishers paying for co-ops, it could be dooming itself in the long run.

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when i worked at a bookstore, we would just face out whatever books we wanted to. endcaps were determined by higher ups, but face outs within the sections were totally up to us minions.

Posted by pain | March 18, 2008 12:14 PM

Ugh, this makes me very nervous. This is kind of why I prefer to shop online. Say what you will about Amazon but there is no censorship of product, everything is available there.

Posted by arduous | March 18, 2008 12:16 PM

Are they going to be doing this to books where they only have one or two copies? The current policy in a bookstore is usually, if you have enough books to face them out, then face them out. It's good for sales. So naturally, any book that is faced out is one that the store has a larger quantity of, which are the ones that the big publishers are pushing.

Posted by JC | March 18, 2008 12:17 PM

I don't really browse bookstores anymore. 99 times out of 100, when I go in, I either know exactly what I'm looking for, or I'm interesting in perusing a particular section, and am probably going to rifle through a lot of those books whether or not they're facing out.

Really, though, book sales are migrating towards the online medium and the knowledgeable consumer, one who already knows what he/she wants and will not settle for what you're facing out or what's in your inventory. Browsing bookstores is fast becoming a passing novelty that doesn't generate very many marginal sales.

Posted by Gomez | March 18, 2008 12:25 PM

The good thing about faceouts is that they make excellent places to face out your own selections in their place. I'm always compulsively rearranging bookstore shelves in places like Borders, where half the books are in the wrong place. I also constantly pull out misshelved books and stack them somewhere so that a clerk can put it right, if I don't have time. I do this in libraries too. A misshelved library book might as well be in the dumpster.

Arduous, the problem with Amazon is you can't browse the shelves, which is how I find probably 2/3 of the books I read. The one I'm looking for turns out to be a piece of shit, but three or four over there's an interesting one. Amazon's categories are so broad, and so incompetently assigned and tagged, that you can't find anything unless you already know what it is or get extraordinarily lucky with your search. The fastest search of all, if you know your cataloging, is a shelf browse.

But yeah, I've worked in bookstores that were going out of business, and that's exactly what they look like.

Posted by Fnarf | March 18, 2008 12:27 PM

I always turn over the Rush and other Red Bushie books. It's called reverse advertising.

Posted by Will in Seattle | March 18, 2008 12:54 PM

This also means they will stock far less books, yes?

And Fnarf, do you use Amazon? Your experience is the opposite of mine. As the Northwest lacks any bookstore that stocks anything other than fiction in depth, Amazon's cross-referencing, catalog breadth, and browsing tools (look inside three different reading guides to Being and Time? Thank you, I will!) are, it pains me to say, more useful than most physical bookstores can be.

Posted by Eric F | March 18, 2008 1:01 PM

I put boogers in those books, Will.

It's more effective and lots o'fun.

Posted by michael strangeways | March 18, 2008 1:03 PM

I still browse. I just browse specific sections.

I don't browse fiction too much anymore... but I also don't read as much fiction as I used to... save for anything I read for school. Maybe I'll start again. I have a few reading lists I never got around to finishing.

Posted by Gomez | March 18, 2008 1:11 PM

Been to Bailey Coy lately?

Posted by Trevor | March 18, 2008 1:28 PM

Or you can put bad poetry books on top of the Hannity and Rush books - that works too.

Posted by Will in Seattle | March 18, 2008 2:07 PM

Mmm, Froot Loops.

That said, I love browsing in bookstores but I find much more interesting stuff at used shops, where generally the facing is staff-chosen anyway.

Posted by Katelyn | March 18, 2008 3:29 PM

Hi there - local indie bookstore guy here. So, I know that a lot of sloggers are heavily wired but, truly, where's the bookstore love? I have to believe (for my own sanity) that there's a customer out there who still wants to browse the shelves of an actual, reality based bookstore.The world of retailing has changed, god knows the world of indie bookselling has changed, but the pleasures of a actual bookstore seem to me to be some of the greatest pleasures in life. For me a book is still a living, tactile thing that I want to touch. And I like being in an actual place surrounded by others doing the same thing. I know its less and less the way the world works. I don't care.

For the record, Amazon most certainly accepts money from publishers to promote books. I can truthfully say that our bookstore has never displayed a book based on payment from anybody.

And about those face-out going out of business stores...if you like them, throw some dough their way.

Posted by Michael Wells | March 19, 2008 9:29 AM

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