17 May 2006

A bit of a rant

The comments on this post, on the Yarn Harlot blog, have me all kinds of fired up. Sadly, I must send all this fire out into blogland. For that, I will probably apologize later in the post. But not yet.

She (Stephanie) asked for some suggestions for bookstores, as she is going to BEA Here are some of the suggestions, and some rational (I hope) dispelling of the myths, at least as far as the mega chain Borders goes:

1. "They might try organizing the books in some fashion"

They do. I've worked at 2 Borders stores in 2 states, and have shopped plenty of others. There are sections for knitting, crocheting, quilting, beading, etc. They just don't stay organized. At any store, of any size. There may be signs on the shelves, or dividers of some sort, but there is organization.

2. "Maybe weight towards including some older books with the newer books"

Not that this is a bad idea, it just won't happen a lot. Bookstores are not libraries. They sell books, and what sells across the board are new books. Borders has dates on those price stickers on the back, and most stores will have employees pull older titles. As well, each month the stores get big lists of stuff to pull and send back to the publishers. Often, these are things that the stores will get refunds on, thus lowering the overall cost of books. If the store saves money on stuff they didn't sell, they can buy stuff that will. If the store doesn't pull those books? They catch all kind of trouble from Corporate.

Most stores (of any chain) will be happy to order older books for you. The big two (Borders and B&N) have access to used books, too, and will order them for you. I promise.

3. "It would help if they could read their reference books in print and actually find the book you want to order but can't because employee apparently can't read"

We'll skip over that part for a second that chafes my butt and instead focus on the first part, "It would help if they could read their reference books in print." This stuff is all on the computer now, either on CD or through Books in Print online. What that employee is doing that takes forever is trying to work with the keyword demon (mythical not program) that, when you type in exactly what the customer said returns no results. A slow, painful dance of trying to keep the customer from getting cranky while trying yourself not to get cranky with the computer ensues. And by the way, "It has a blue cover" doesn't help much.

4. "How 'bout a sign offering friendly ordering of books a customer would be looking for?

Well, at Borders (dunno about B&N) there are signs everywhere, and not just at the desks. So many you'll trip over 'em if you're not careful. Its just that in retail (and libraries, btw) no one reads signs. I'm dead serious here. Ask, please.

5. How 'bout tracking those requests and noticing trends and then keeping the most requested (gasp) in stock!!!"

At my second Borders, which is one of the largest, more than 50% of stock is based on special order trends. If they are a lot of books on novelty yarns on the shelf, its time to beat up your fellow knitters. Seriously.

6. "And the organization thing. Why do they think we don't understand the alphabet?"

See #1. Honest to the Gods Above, I would organize the sections daily, and by the end of the night they were trashed. Trashed in an "I'm going to cry right here and now" kind way, because all the work I had done just hours before was for nothing.

7. "Have the knitting section overlooking the children's books with lots of plush adult-sized chairs"

My old Borders did this, and a LOT of sticky books were the result.

7.5 "Putting the knitting books on the shelves that divide the rest of the store from the children's section (thus having the knitting books IN the children's section) was also not a moment of great genius (another Borders accomplishment)."

See? What did I tell you?

8. "Tell publishers not to shrink wrap the books in plastic."

I almost did the opposing views with this one, too, as aome people complain about the books being shelf worn while others hate the plastic. The solution is simple: at the big box stores (Borders and B&N) ask a bookseller if they will unwrap. 90% of the time they'll unwrap it, or let you do it yourself. Its that easy.

9. "Also, it would be great to see more knitting magazines - there are a bunch out there!"

Amen, sister. This, again, is an issue for the corporate office. Your local branch of the store does not have control over what mags they carry. You want something else? Email a comment to the head honchos.

10. "Then once we get good books at the library we all need to do our part by checking them out so they remain in the collection."

I want to end my rant on a good note. Here in the lovely state of Connecticut, there are a lot of libraries with a lot of good knitting books. All you need (if you're a resident) is a card at your hometown library and you can 1) check out books at any CT library; just show up and hand them your card, 2) request from your library any book from any other CT library, just ask "Can I request _____ sent here?" and 3) grab your card, go online and do it yourself.. It will be sent to the library you like.

All businesses, whether for profit like a bookstore or non profit like a library, work from statistical reports. If it doesn't sell at the store, its pulled to make room for something that does. Likewise, if something doesn't circulate at the library, it may one day be weeded to make room for something else. Those that move a lot (whether sold or checked out) stay on the shelf. Its not pretty, but that's how it works. The people you see on the front lines: the librarian, the bookseller, whomever, is not generally the person in power. If you have a complaint about selection, go to those in control and for the love of wool don't yell at the poor sap barely making a living wage. Please, help the people who are making these books available to you. We're trying to help you.


At 11:31 AM, Blogger NeedleTart said...

Ohh! Around our house we love the clerks and other front line people (cookies on a regular basis find thier way to the local library, along with books we ordered, and bought!, to fill out their collection). The sad part is that corporate America is trying so hard to serve the lowest common denominator, but let's not go there, or I'll get on my rant about public schools and the administration. Know that the complaints you saw were born of frustration and a wish for the good old days when everyone lived up to the highest ideals of civilazation (just when was that anyway?)

At 11:41 AM, Blogger Sarah said...

I do have one (legitimate, I think!) complaint about Borders. The computer books (at least at the store closest to me) are organized by author's name. They're sort of roughly grouped into categories, but when I'm looking for a book on Dreamweaver 8, I don't want to have to go through a floor-to-ceiling section of books on "web applications" looking for the six titles that actually pertain to what I'm looking for. It would be far more useful, IMO, in that section at least, to ignore authors' names and categorize by subject. I do realize that this may be more work for the store, but I was about ready to pull my hair out that night.

That's my bookstore rant of the day. Carry on. :-)

At 11:43 AM, Anonymous eskimo said...

Thank you. Thanks for making the public at large aware that the retail service professional is not necessarily in control of their problem. This goes for any service professional, be it your waitress (me!), travel agent, cashier, the lady or gent at the other end of whatever 800-number you called, whomever. Granted, there are a few idiots working with the public these days (and seriously, you have to be a little crazy to want to), but in my experience, the public at large anticipates that they are smarter than the person they expect to help them. So, I say, if they're so smart, why do they need my help?
And the library thing: The public library in my area will deliver books TO YOUR OWN FRONT DOOR and you can request them ONLINE. They don't even have postage on them, which convinces me that there is a library fairy driving around in the middle of the night, dropping knitting books at my front door. You don't even have to go to the library anymore, except to return them. You can renew for ages, right from home. And don't give me that "what if I don't have a home computer" junk. How are you reading this blog right now? Use that computer.
And props for the tact. You know I could never have managed it.
So, brava, sweetheart, brava. I'm happy to know you.


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