Saturday, October 20, 2007

Pruning the Bookstore

Last month the Bookshop Blog had an interesting post about deadwood book categories that should be expurgated from the bookshop. Despite a suppressed desire to become the Empress of Books and thus have copies of every out-of-print book, I realize that there is only so much shelf and floor space at Old Saratoga Books and therefore, routine book pruning is required. I have "killed" sections at our shop in the past, such as the foreign languages section and the various categories of paperback romances that I used to shelve by publisher and number (oh, the humanity!).

After reading the Bookshop Blog post I am tempted to wield the book pruning shears again. While I don't agree with the blog comment advising the consignment of the biographies to the guillotine, it does make sense to shelve artists in the art section, authors in their own literary biography section, scientists in science, etc. There are always oddball and interesting biographies, though, and so we do retain a larger-than-I-would-like biography section, but I do keep a gimlet eye on them every time I go upstairs. If someone's been hanging out too long, they get sent to the rack...the bargain rack.

I am often tempted to ax the true crime section. I love a good fictional murder mystery, but reading about real people getting killed is creepy. I am little scared by the purchasers of these books and I try to offload most of them into the bargain carts or sell them in box lots on ebay just to get them out of here. I do have the true crime section in the furthest reaches of the upstairs just so the weirdos that buy them are out of my sight. Lately there has been a flush of interest in Mafia-related books, probably because of the success of the Sopranos television series, so I haven't yet whacked this section. It's definitely on probation. Same goes for the off-putting horror fiction section.

Another book section worth killing would be local history section. It sounds reasonable to want to have books about your area in the shop. We certainly get a lot of inquiries about titles about Saratoga County history and the Battle of Saratoga and I used to try and scout these out in my travels and purchase them from other book dealers. They are hard to come by, as most local historians hang on to them throughout their mortal coil and because they usually have a small print run, making them even scarcer. When such a book comes into the shop, it is a rare event, and therefore, gets a rare price. The local history buff then comes in and spies this treasure but wants to pay the equivalent value of a Danielle Steel paperback and there is usually lots of whining about needing the book for important research. It's also a popular section for folks wanting to "just borrow" the book overnight or who boldly ask whether I have a copy machine. I love having history books in the shop, but one day all the local history book section will definitely be killed.

The magic about killing a section, or at least stripping it way back, as Nora of Rainy Day Books notes in the Bookshop Blog piece, is that it does seem to revitalize sales in that area. A completely full shelf of books just does not sell as well as a partially full shelf with a shiny book or two facing out. Then there is the bookseller's mojo of having touched a section that immediately makes some of these moribund titles suddenly become desirable. It's spooky how many times I've pruned, fluffed up and dusted a section only to have a book that's been in residence for years spring into a customer's hands.

Drama is a real dead dog in our particular location, but I haven't had the heart to strike a stake in the heart of Shakespeare, Beckett, O'Neill and Company. I have made sure the plays are in alphabetical order and I often pull plays out to reside in the Classics section, where they then make their way out the door.

I was interested to read the Rainy Day Books comments about having the spy/thriller section morph from "an absolute bloated dog" to a bestselling section. Hmmm. I'll have to get on that, because it is not a real seller for us. I have these "shoot 'em ups", as my uncle calls them, mixed in with regular contemporary fiction and perhaps they need their own space so they can radiate their testosterone-packed, cyber-spy, mercenary/CIA agent/misunderstood loner energy out to potential readers. It certainly is harder to ferret them out quickly by cover design as the old Cold War hammer and sickles and Nazi insignias of our erstwhile global villains have been replaced by slick techno art. I guess a big gun will always dictate their placement unless a horse is involved (western) or alien with big mammaries (sci-fi).

William from the always-interesting Hang Fire books blog ("Epic Battles in the Salvation Army, Homeric Journeys to the Post Office"), noted in his comments to this piece that in his retail bookstore experience, a Curiosities section worked well in the place of some dead zone material and I will have to follow up on that. I have a Miscellaneous section, but if I pruned out the housekeeping/organization/wacky laws and place names type books, there would be some weird and wonderful titles to perhaps shelve with the circus shelf into a Curiosities section. (Note to self: don't just type this up and forget about it).

Off to knock off some books......

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