Recently there's been a lot of discussion among genre writing professionals about the decision by buyers at Borders to skip certain new genre titles. Yesterday Andrew posted a reasoned and thoughtful argument as to why a large chain bookstore would make that decision:
But bookstores are businesses, not public conveniences. No store has the responsibility to carry every book published -- although, to be honest, that's a straw-man argument, since no one is asking for that. (They're just wishing that their books, the books they like, and the books by their friends be spared the chopping block.) I market books for a living, so I can tell you an unpleasant truth: the order for any book, from any account, starts at zero. The publisher's sales rep walks in the door with tipsheets and covers, past sales figures and promotional plans, to convince that bookseller's buyer to buy that book. In many categories -- SFF is still one of them -- the chain buyers say "yes" the overwhelming majority of the time. But not all the time. Sometimes, that buyer is not convinced, and the order stays at zero.He effectively breaks down the economics and the thought-process behind the decision to carry a sequel to a first book whose sales were disappointing. As a former book buyer for an independent store, I often skipped titles whose predecessors didn't sell (or "turn") well enough to merit giving the author additional shelf space. It's purely a business decision: the number of new titles divided by the linear feet available.
Andrew is also quite blunt about the myth of the supremacy of the independent bookstore:
One thing is indeed true: about eighteen years ago, there were 7,500 independent bookstores; now there are 1700. Sure, some good stores closed. But the rosy-colored view of the wonderful lost indy bookstore, land of miracles, where enlightened, Buddha-esque bookmen and -women sold only the finest of literature to a happy and contented audience is pure bunk. Most of those vanished stores were too small, undercapitalized, badly run marginal businesses run by cranks. They went out of business because they were bad at business, lacking any point-of-sale systems or serious inventory tracking at all. If they didn't return all that many books, it was because they had no idea what they had or where it was. Oh, and most of them -- as those of us who remember those days without the gauzy light of nostalgia -- were actively hostile to science fiction and fantasy. (Remember? This is the era when SF sold mostly in paperback, through entirely different channels, or in small hardcover editions to libraries. Those supposed wondrous independent stores of yore didn't carry SFF.) The independent stores still open are probably 90% of the well-managed independent bookstores that ever existed; there's a serious selection bias in looking at what's still around and extrapolating that back to all of the stores that didn't survive -- most of them didn't survive for a reason.As someone who worked in independent bookstores in the San Francisco Bay Area from 1984 through 1999 and who has always been an outspoken supporter of the independent bookselling community, I couldn't agree more with the above paragraph. People are often quick to blame Amazon or chain bookstores for the downfall of the independent booksellers, but a closer look at the history of individual stores often tells another story.
The first bookstore I worked for eventually went under, not because of chain bookstores (there was no Borders, and B&N was a small East Coast-based chain) or Amazon (the Internet didn't even exist at that point!) but because the owner - who was a very decent man - was a terrible businessman. The second bookstore I worked at went under a couple of years after I moved to New York. Once a thriving indie with several locations, each location went under for an entirely separate reason. Location #1 was situated in the Silicon Valley; when the dotcom bubble burst, this location effectively lost all of its customers as the surrounding businesses laid off employees. Location #2 had it's rent increased to the point that it no longer made sense for the store to remain open. The store wasn't doing enough business at the time to justify the increase in overhead. (And for the record, there is now a different independent bookstore operating successfully in this same location.) Location #3 was located in an out-of-the way part of a thriving college town. The main shopping and foot traffic area for this town was fully a mile to the north, just off the campus of a major university. Book buyers coming to this store had to make a concerted effort to get there, driving out of their way to a location that had little else to offer a busy working person who needed to squeeze a lot of errands into one trip. It made sense then for shoppers to prefer to take their business to the Borders a mile to the north. (That Borders has since closed and been replaced by an independent store which is doing quite well.)
In any case, Andrew provides much food for thought and you can read the entire post here.