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Sunday, December 11, 2011

A Sign of the Times?

Okay, I'll admit it, it's been a while since I was in my favorite bookstore. (That picture isn't it, by the way. ) Even so, I was shocked.
Where were the fiction books?

They were tucked away in a back corner of the store on the second level.

Oh, there were the New Release tables on the first floor, and two long shelves of New Release Hardcover fiction, but other than that there was only the discounted book racks. I had to go looking to find the rest.

Nothing on the first floor, only non-fiction, self-help, travel etc.

Children's and YA were on the second floor as you stepped off the elevator.
Toys now filled the space Mystery had once occupied and educational toys where shelves filled with fantastic flights of the imagination had stood. Philosophy and psychology where Romance had once filled the aisles. (Are they trying to tell us something?)  Then, finally, fiction. Four or five lonely aisles in the upper back corner of the store.

Now, don't get me wrong, I own a Nook, and I love it. I know I've also debated a time or two whether to buy the cheaper e-book or the slightly more expensive paperback, and I've set down the much more expensive hardcover of an author I collected for years (although it was because their child wrote it, and I'm not sure it's as good as the parent's books were). But, but.... but... This was a bookstore! Yes, they were still selling books - but not much fiction. The last time I was there four or five rows was the space allotted to Romance alone, not all fiction. Were they just pushing their latest gadget? What about the folks looking to purchase a bunch of romance novels for their non-e-reader friends?

Exactly who is to blame here? Bookstores or publishers? (It's not the writers, in most cases we have no power.) Was the low number of print books a business decision on the part of the bookstore? Or was it because the price of those books from the publishers has gotten so high  the bookstores can't afford to keep the stock?

I have to admit that part of my problem with print is the same - it's too expensive. Personally I believe that's why so many discount bookstores have popped up and the popularity of e-books has taken off - and not just because of the new gadgets. Like so many other things, movies, sports games, what used to be a cheap form of entertainment has now become expensive and all of that increase can't be blamed on electronic devices. A standard paperback novel now costs $10 and a hardcover at least $16. Even a Harlequin romance is $5. When money is tight, that's a hard hit to the wallet. And they wonder why sales of print have fallen off?  It makes far more sense to put your name on the waiting list at the local library...or wait until the TV movie comes out. Books are starting to compete with video games in price - especially if you're not a re-reader. As libraries close or cut back due to budget cuts that effects far more than just the bookstores or publishers, that effects literacy. Books have now become a luxury where once they were the refuge of the poor.

Rather than making books more appealing or offering more selection  - taking advantage of computerization and logistics - instead publishers are increasingly dumping their backlist books rather than pricing them at a discount.  Thereby giving more fodder and more fuel to the growth of discount book franchises, e-books and companies like Amazon. A tragedy to all of us who love books, but a blow to the campaign to increase literacy.