Oh BookStores: A Lament

Posted: 30th July 2012 by onyxhawke in Uncategorized

While wandering through the Big Chain store the other day I noticed I was hearing my chief complaint about brick and mortars. It is the same complaint I’ve had since I was an eyas. It annoys the hell out of me. It is bad business in inaction. It defies logic. It can’t possibly be explained by any rational method. Simply put, it is drain on sales, which affects not just the stores, but often the publishers and writers as well.

The only thing you can count on with readers is that they will recommend what they like. Frequently. Sometimes in writing, sometimes to complete strangers, usually to family, friends and people they run into who happen to be reading. This is the best news in the world for bookstores, publishers and writers. It means the stores don’t have to be experts on every given series and writer. They just have to be in business and fail to be odious to deal with.

So what is the lament? It is pretty simple: Not being able to find the first book in a series. Really, how many people are going to see Iron Man 3 or Avengers 2 without having seen the previous ones? Not many. Very, very few in fact. So why are book buyers constantly expected to pick up series in the middle? Imagine picking up Game of Thrones at book five. Or jumping into Charlie and Great Glass Elevator without having readCharlie and the Chocolate Factory(or even having seen the movie).

It doesn’t matter if the book is Extremis or Chicory Up it can be The Wolf Age or Dog and Dragon the odds that most readers will pick up a second or later book in a series knowing it isn’t the first book are ludicrously low. Since word of mouth is still the most effective form of advertising, and readers almost always point out the starting point of series when to friends, why don’t book stores make more of an effort to get and keep the first book in a series in stock?

When the next book in a readers favorite series comes out they will be pushing it on other people. Ordering a few books from the beginning of the series for them to either push their friends towards or purchase for their friends. One of the two big advantages brick and mortar stores have over internet shopping is instant gratification. This is a huge, huge advantage. One of the first things they teach you anywhere commissioned goods are sold is put it in the customers hands. People who pick something up are more likely to buy.  Add this to the increased likelihood of purchase a recommendation by a close friend with similar tastes has and you’ve got a chance of sales that is higher than any other product in the store.

The question isn’t is it difficult to order books, we know the answer to that is no. The question is why aren’t business leaders being proactive and jumping at the chance to increase their sales? This isn’t building a personalized recommendation engine for a mom and pop business it is simply making it easier to sell more books in a series you already know sells.


  • Patty Cryan

    Chain bookstores, yes. But independent bookstores like mine and like the ones found on IndieBound and NEIBA know enough to keep “firsties” in stock. That’s the difference between letting a computer system in some part of the country nowhere near your store do your ordering versus having a dedicated human book buyer onsite who can put their hands on stock and bump up their inventory.

    • Onyxhawke

      Indies generally are better, and the ones that survive are almost exclusively high quality, but sadly they don’t have enough store fronts to support authors without BN/AMZN.