Edible Mini Greens

Dear Barnes & Noble Booksellers (And Book Publishers)…


bn logo

Hi, Barnes & Noble. James Floyd Kelly here.

I’m a long-time customer and rabid book reader, so it’s safe to say I’ve spent some serious money at your stores over the last 30+ years. I still enjoy a book I can hold in my hand versus digital books, so let me just say that something happened today in one of your stores that has bothered me for the last few hours.

I left empty-handed.

Great staff, nice atmosphere, good location. But I actually was in-and-out in less than five minutes. That’s a record because I can typically spend 30-45 minutes in there. I used to go on New-Book Tuesday, but not all new books were put out before my early arrival, so I’ve since learned to just go on Wednesday.

So why did I leave in such a hurry and without a book or two in my hand? Easy answer, but it will require a bit of time travel. Just a few months back–nothing that would damage the time continuum beyond repair.

Two months ago (and for years and years prior), I could walk to the Science Fiction and Fantasy section and find the following:

  1. Five or six shelves of new hardbacks under a New Fiction sign.
  2. To the right of the New Fiction shelf were five or six shelves of new paperbacks.

I loved this. I could see all the newest titles in one place. All the covers were displayed, and I didn’t have to cock my head to the right to read spines. It was a rare day when I couldn’t find something new that grabbed me and had me heading to the sales counter.

But about two months ago, that all changed. New fiction (both hardbacks and paperback) were mixed in with everything else. And with spines out! Very few covers displayed! I asked an employee and was told that it was a new policy and the store couldn’t do anything about it.

Here’s the thing, Barnes & Noble. For about six weeks, I gave it a try. I walked down the aisles and bent my neck at an odd angle so I could read the titles on the spines and try to find the new stuff. Even then, I was spending way too much time pulling books out and realizing I’d already seen and passed on them at one time or another. It’s been frustrating, let me tell you.

I do get it, okay… I get that you can squeeze more books on the shelves by filing them with spines out and reducing the number of covers displayed. I can see how you might think that will increase sales–you’re thinking, “the customer will have to look through ALL the books for the new stuff and maybe stumble upon some older titles and buy them, too!”


So Wrong.

I consider myself a typical book browser and buyer, so I can tell you that your change has had the opposite effect. I went in today… and just didn’t have it in me to wander down the two aisles and bend my head sideways and look for new titles.

And I’m probably not going to do it next week. Or the week after that.

Yes, I know you still have the New Releases circular table just inside the entrance filled with new hardbacks. And yes, I did spot the table with new paperbacks. But not a lot of science fiction winds up on either of those. I know that publishers pay you to have their new titles featured, but I’m betting most new releases each week don’t end up on those tables, do they? They go straight to the shelves, don’t they?

Here’s the thing, Barnes and Noble–I do buy books from a certain online competitor, but that competitor doesn’t make it easy for me to spot all the new science fiction titles released each week. I like to pick up a book and read the inside cover and back cover descriptions… I like to read the blurbs from famous authors and websites to see what they think of the book I’m holding in my hand. I can’t do that with the online competitor, so you’ve got the edge there. But ONLY if I can find the books that are potential purchases for me. But I can’t do that right now with your new policy change.

So answer me this: what benefit do you now offer me over the online competitor? I don’t drink coffee, and I don’t buy my boys any toys in your overpriced toy section or board games in your gaming section. (Hmmm… I wonder how much shelf space could be added if certain non-book sections were thinned down or removed entirely?)

This leaves me scratching my head and wondering just why I should get in my truck and drive to your store next week. I’m not coming up with any good reasons.

Now, it’s very possible that I’m the ONLY customer who feels this way. If so, you won’t even notice I’m gone. But I’ve gotta imagine that others out there have noticed. (Especially other science fiction and fantasy readers.)

Look, I let it go when I saw the $300 drone for sale behind the registers. And I snickered a bit at the mini-tins filled with portable salads, but I had a book in my hand to read and not much time to really consider just who in their right mind would buy something like that.

Edible Mini Greens

But now you’ve interrupted my routine and made it difficult to find new titles, and I imagine that if science fiction and fantasy book publishers were aware of this policy change, they might not like it either.

(And just in case I’ve got the attention of any science fiction and fantasy book publishers, let me just say that I haven’t purchased any new SF titles from B&N in three weeks because I couldn’t find them! Don’t tell your authors, though–they might get upset if they knew that the odds of gaining new fans of their works have dropped.)

The great thing about businesses, though? They can change policies… even go back to ones that worked. Should you, Barnes & Noble, decide to give SF and Fantasy readers an easier way to find new titles in your brick-and-mortar stores, please do let me know… you can post a comment below and I’ll be notified.

I wish you all the best, Barnes & Noble. And best of luck with those mini-tins of edible greens.


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45 thoughts on “Dear Barnes & Noble Booksellers (And Book Publishers)…

  1. I do appreciate the genre-specific new release emails from GoodReads. And Publishers Weekly et al have a lot of new release emails that don’t require a subscription. But yes, it’s amazing how much money B&N no longer gets from me.

    1. I agree Kristen! I was last in a B&N when ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ came out for launch day and it was so “meh”…everyone was probably at home already with their copy from Amazon in hand.

      1. Actually amazon could not ship out on sat when the book was released and they were on back order when they came out on amazon so B&N had it faster and because you didnt like a book is not our company’s fault get over yourself

  2. I agree w/ article b&n has changed. Also find it funny that his last 3books hav been tech centered considering he still likes to “turn pages” [like me].

  3. There are good points here, but there’s one big fat bone-headed one. The “tins full of spring greens” are kits for GROWING spring greens. Now, it’s true that I and probably anybody else can certainly do better with a plastic pot, a bag of potting soil, and a packet of seeds, and probably for less money. I won’t dispute that this is a dumb thing to sell in a book store. That doesn’t negate the fact that Mr. Geek Dad here didn’t bother to read the tin to see what was actually in it. Fully use the skills you presumably go to a bookstore to use before you unleash that sarcasm, sonny!

    1. Absolutely correct. When I snapped the photo, I was standing paying for my son’s book and only got a quick glance.

      But if you’d paid a quick visit to the product’s website, you’d find this bit of info: http://bit.ly/IqT6zt

  4. I worked for Barnes & Noble for 16 years. When they began the “new in…” bays, I was thrilled. Even as a bookseller, I didn’t see every book that came in, and I would peruse these bays often. Now, I get a lot of weekly emails telling me what is new. I devour them and then order online. I don’t see the reason to go into the store at all anymore.

  5. As a current bookseller I gotta say I am SO glad that the front list bays are gone! They are super time consuming to maintain and honestly having them faced out doesn’t bring *that* many more sales. I can personally attest to wanting to pull my hair out when I would have to scan and make room for all the new damn titles especially in sci-fi and not being able to pull books that had absolutely NO sales because they hadn’t been out for 3 months. Also, those front list bays -yes bays, not shelves- were too exstensive. If you are truly a fan of sci-fi or any of the genre sections, there are plenty of websites that review new titles that you can go on and jot down some titles that sound interesting and then ask your local bookseller to help you find them. But people are lazy and can’t even do that much. They can’t tell me any of the previous books they have read or authors they like. They night as well just browse through the entire section. We mostly do faceput the newer title. If your store had everything spiced out, they were probably preparing to do zone maintenance and pull the titles that need to go back to publishers. Just check your pussy attitude and get over it. Change happens. Deal with it.

      1. Do you even read bro? She said “But people are lazy and can’t even do that much. They can’t tell me any of the previous books they have read or authors they like.” She’d rather be talking to people recommending and selling books making money for the store than taking time to deal with books on displays that didn’t sell. So how is that lazy. Congrats on being the #1 troll on this comment thread though!

        1. Thank you!
          The broad did say, and I quote, “They are super time consuming to maintain” & “I would have to scan and make room for all the new damn titles”. Sounds to me like she doesn’t like to do work. Lazy.

          1. Not wanting to work on pointless things that serves no benefit to the store or the customer doesn’t make you lazy. Not to mention the fact that she still did the work even though it was pointless.

    1. I may be the only person in the entire store but I absolutely loved working on optimization! Local store lists made it so easy to pull the oldest ones and maintain the shelves! The mass market bays were the only ones I hated because mass markets are the bane of my existence.

    2. Please share the name and location of your bookstore, as it doesn’t sound like a store I would like to frequent given your response. “New damn titles” — isn’t that a good thing for a bookstore? I don’t ask for recommendations because I’ve yet to find any employee who could make a scifi recommendation. People aren’t lazy, just busy. You’re a bookseller, and you don’t make it easy for customers to find your newest titles?
      With the attitude you’re showing in your response to my legitimate complaint/concern, you might want to think about the future of your own bookstore. Bookstores go out of business all the time – Amazon is here to stay. Deal with it.

    3. I agree with the feel of laziness inherent in Tiffany’s post. It perfectly embodies the brain-dead, don’t-make-me-do-stuff-involving-books attitude that this entire franchise has now. I can’t even get any member coupons for actual books anymore, just endless coupons for gross Starbucks coffee. And good luck finding new manga releases actually on the shelves- they’re in the back room, if anywhere. BN seriously has an identity crisis as a store and it keeps getting worse.

      And I don’t know where these smart employees who can recommend titles to me are. I’ve never had a BN sales associate know a damn thing about manga, sci fi or fantasy. I’ve actually had associates ask ME if a certain book/author is good or not.

    1. Why even go to a physical store anymore? Just shop online. You don’t have a bunch of lazy employees who don’t listen to the customers. JB, you’re a twat.

      1. Then you can shop online and you still won’t have enough a bunch ch of bays of books faced out with all the new titles. We aren’t lazy as booksellers. We know how valuable our time is and like JB said, we would rather talk to our customers and help them find what they aren’t dress looking for or give them recommendations rather than tasking away with a display that really doesn’t bring us more sales. You know what you can’t get on a website? You can’t find your stupid book by “that one with the blue cover with a cat on it”. Good luck go ogling that. I have found countless titles for customers by engaging with them when they had much less than that to even go on. After 16 years in retail I can 100% tell you that the customer is NOT always right.

        1. There’s a solid chance the blue cover that features a cat is a Cozy Mystery, so I’d start there.

  6. I agree with the booksellers, but not for the same reasons. As an AVID reader of sci-fi and fantasy, it was super annoying to have to look in multiple places for my favorite authors. I love being able to go to the author in section and see the entire series, or other offerings they have without having to go- New Tables, New HC bay, New Paperback bay, Backlist shelves to find titles. In the aisles I encounter my fellow readers of the genre, and in casual conversations about books, all but one have been relieved about going back to how things were a couple of years ago. BN only had this new release thing for maybe 4 or 5 years, and I remember being so disheartened when they put that in place. But everything changes, and I’ll continue to spend my money there because I love books and book people. Also if I’m stumped, I couldn’t agree more that having a bookseller who is excited about sharing their favorites with me is the best. So I hope they don’t go back to the faceout bays, but I’ll continue to shop there regardless.

  7. “Here’s the thing, Barnes and Noble–I do buy books from a certain online competitor, but that competitor doesn’t make it easy for me to spot all the new science fiction titles released each week. I like to pick up a book and read the inside cover and back cover descriptions… I like to read the blurbs from famous authors and websites to see what they think of the book I’m holding in my hand.”

    So in other words you use Barnes and Noble to window shop and then go purchase the books from the online retailer that’s basically single handily destroying all brick and mortar retail, costing the economy 2-3 jobs for every 1 job they create and then underpaying and overworking those they do hire. So why should Barnes and Noble care what you think?

  8. Fact: Amazon employees make more than a retail B&N cashier./stock girl.

    They will wish they cared when they go the Route of Borders. The only thing keeping them afloat is the college stores.

    1. Fact Amazon employees and retail B&N cashier/stock girl are completely different jobs. Fact Amazon pays employees on average 15% less than actual similar jobs at other companies. Fact B&N College is a completely separate company from Barnes & Noble bookstores.

      1. 1. What’s your point
        2. Wrong
        3. You are correct, but only recently and you will see why in the coming couple of years.

    2. Amazon employees, the ones who actually pack the shipments, are treated like little better than garbage. I say this as an Amazon customer. I don’t like it, I wish it were different, but I also can’t google local stores for certain products I use, I’m NOT driving all over town and burning up gas, and even then they won’t have everything I buy.

      I do quite often try to buy books through third-party sellers instead of Amazon.

      I don’t know what the situation is for B&N employees doing order fulfillment but as for the ones in the stores they seem to have normal retail bookstore jobs.

    3. The cashier/stockgirl you are referring to is a bookseller. That is the difference. Some of them are women, some are men. Not broads. Not stock girls. They are college students, college graduates, teachers, retirees, and so many more. They practically babysit your children while you’re flipping through a stack of 12 magazines and drinking your latte for an hour. What else did they do in an hour? They also probably served you that coffee, then helped 6 people find books they were looking for, on their way to ring up 6 more customers at checkout, then go back to those new releases that came which likely went something like this: scan all those onto the shelves, assist 4 more customers, remove the titles that arent selling and arrived more than 30, 60, 0r 90 days depending on what format the book is and how many have sold in that time, but first go make more lattes. Now scan those older books out, except now you have to pick up 12 stacks of books on the floor that were left strewn about while you were gone, put those away, and greet every customer in the aisle too. Go back to your new releases now, load up that cart with gobacks, answer the phone, decipher and look for the book they asked for that was on the radio this afternoon–now walk it back to the shelf because the customer only wants to know how much it is and why it is a different price online. Help a teacher decide on books in her curriculum. Talk to a smart 10 year old who wants 10 more books to read that they havent already read at school. They like mysteries, and ghost stories, but not too scary,sometimes dragons, and something funny. Recommend all your favorites and watch their face light up at the thought of reading all these new books! Now go back to your cart of books, take those to the back to deal with. Answer a page from your manager who tells you to finally take your break. Take 10 minutes and get another cart. Repeat. There are 12 more carts just like that one waiting and more books just arrived off the truck.

  9. You must be a real picnic at libraries, where nearly all the books are shelved spine-out. Or you’re too good to go to libraries.

    And B&N has sold gifts for as long as I’ve visited their stores, which has been since at least 2003 or 2002.

    Maybe face less in phone and more paying attention to what’s going on around you.

    1. Wow, what nastiness.

      I love libraries, but I go to my library for completely different reasons than a bookseller. And your assumption that my face is in my phone rather than on my surroundings is completely unfounded.

      I try not to make assumptions about people, Dana. You should try it Maybe lighten up a bit and spend less time writing nasty comments, huh?

    2. I’ve never been in a library that doesn’t have New Releases shelves with a whole bunch of books face out and sorted by genre. Even our tiny library in our mountain town of 300 residents does that. My mom is an avid reader (1-5 books a week) and relies on her library to shelve her favorite authors’ new books in the New Releases section. She also finds new authors that way. She is not online at all ever.

      As an author whose publisher regularly purchased space on SFF new release shelves AND front tables, I suspect (after discussing this with different B&N employees at three different stores) fewer shelf purchasing options are available. I’m disappointed in it as a reader and a writer, but I still really like the store. They are good people, and this goes across the dozens of stores in the country I’ve been to.

  10. Covers sell books. That’s the whole point of cover art. Having them faced is a big deal. I worked for Crown Books (remember them?) for nearly 10 years and was with them at their closing, and worked for Borders as well. Having big, luxurious stacks of new hot titles was important, endcaps of new releases — no spines, with the cover’s art, title and author clearly displayed. I can’t tell you how many garbled titles and authors I had to decipher over the years, or how many books I had to glean from the color, that art is important to sell the book. “I can’t remember the author, but it’s blue-green.” (Celestine Prophecy) “There’s a bridge on the cover? Bridges over something county??” (Bridges of Madison County) “Depick Chopper — it’s blue.” (Ageless Body, Timeless Mind) Lots of folks maybe can’t get the author or the title quite right, but they’ll remember that cover, at least enough to where I put it in their hands, they’ll say “THAT’S IT!”

    As for B&N becoming more and more of a gift shop that sells a few books, I’ve been annoyed with that for a while… If I wanted all that stuff, I’d go to Target and pay less.

  11. Disclaimer: I didn’t take the time to read all previous responses, so there’s a chance that what I’m about to say has already been spoken.

    As a decade-long employee, I hope to give a little insight into the thought process behind this revisited layout. First, you are certainly not the first customer to express this concern. Generally, it is our returning customers who are irritated by this change. While we hate to see upset customers, and even worse to lose customers, we understand that not every person has visited our stores before. We are also losing sales when someone finds the Stephen King “section” and decides that we are sold out of his newest book.

    Also, as a company, we are renewing our focus on the customer and being there to recommend additional titles. To explain, on every business day, we spent 3-5 hours adding and deleting each of those titles in a genre list. We filtered through to find the oldest, non-selling title, making the decision to return it, and shifting all of the remaining books to file the new title alphabetically. Now, we get to put all of an author’s books together, so we can have more time to say, “I see you’re looking at…. If you like him/her, you may also like… And he/she has this new one right here…”

    Anyway, there are more reasons, I’m sure… But my break is over. Hope that helps, and I hope you come back next Tuesday (because this also means the new titles should be out on time and you don’t have to wait until Wednesday).

    1. These are good points aside from the fact that you need employees to provide that extra customer service. There are multiple stores in my city. My last 3 visits in those stores have had one cashier (not ringing any sales as there was no one buying anything), the phone ringing off the hook, one customer service person (with irritated looking customers waiting for help), no one in music, on cafe server. If BN is going to use the excuse of providing better customer service (I’m sure that’s coming right from the home office) than they should staff those stores. It’s no secret that stores have not been making their SPH. That SPH goal has also been lowered multiple times beause stores can’t make it. Where are the booksellers??

      Also you state its mostly the regular customers that are upset. Who do you think has been keeping BN in business?? Members, the people you sell cards to, so they keep coming back and spending their money in the stores.

      Also, when you do find a bookseller, finding one that can actaully recommend you anything else is pretty rare. They ran a lot of old school booksellers off when they brought the NOOK in trying to recruit Best Buy workers and “closers” that could sell customers the new tech. Top that off with cutting anyone that averaged 30 or more hours that was not a lead to down to 20 so they don’t automatically get offered insurance and now you have a majority of booksellers that work 2 or 3 jobs to survive. When you do find a knowledgeable bookseller, contrary to your claim above, they don’t act like they have time to help you find more books because they have breaks to cover on top of the fact they probably didn’t get their 15 minute break.

      Sadly it’s not only Amazon causing lost business. It’s years of bad corporate decisions that is causing lost business. Amazon is only one nail in the coffin.

      1. Well, I can only speak for my store (and district) when I say we made SPH, Sales Plan, and we surpassed LY sales. You are correct that they did “level out” the SPH at one point in the last year, and that point we were making it by 700 hours. So, we started fresh, and ended the year with another 200 hours banked. I think 2 stores in our district did not make plan, but that is a small percentage.

        I’m not saying MOST Members are upset, I’m saying that of the few people who have been upset, those are mostly members. And we certainly appreciate those returning customers. I’m not diminishing the value of our members.

        The decisions made about non-leads and insurance had less to do do with our company and more to do with the federal government and healthcare.

        Fortunately, we have (over the last few months) been required to schedule a CS4 (a person who is ONLY in the store to walk around, talk to customers, and provide recommendations). I hope this changes the mindset of many of the unhappy people in this thread. Also, I hope that the stores around you can make better staffing decisions, as those booksellers you describe don’t sound like the people we look for.

        Again, I can’t speak for the entire company, but I am proud of what we do here and wanted to put in my two cents. It’s okay if we disagree but I won’t be posting again because for some reason this site keeps crashing on me… and also because the things I say aren’t going to sway your opinion.

  12. Oh! I also meant to mention that IDEALLY the new titles would be faced out in section, however, space doesn’t always allow this to happen.

  13. It would be interesting to see (super seekrit, I’m sure) numbers of purchased new titles once the dust settles as compared to when the genre new release sections were in full swing.

    1. As with any of these changes, BN didn’t decide to do this on a whim. There were test stores for months before it rolled out company wide and since they rolled it out I’m sure the loss of revenue from those deciding they couldn’t handle the change was outweighed by all the hours saved from not having to do frontlist rotation.

  14. Thank you for writing this! I feel the exact same way to the letter. Browsing the new releases in the sci fi and fantasy section was one of my anchors in this twisted little world and then some idiot merchandiser decided promoting new work wasn’t worth the shelf space. I found a lot of new things to buy that way, it’s one of the easiest advertising methods they could have. Guess BN just doesn’t like money.

  15. I know this thread has mostly run its course, but I have to agree that this was a disturbing and off-putting move. The argument that a new customer may find the Steven King section, not see the new release there, and assume it is sold out, speaks volumes as to why this is, in the long run, a terrible policy. It is a policy designed to focus n new releases by established authors, who customers are coming into the store specifically to find. In other words, it focusses on customers who have already made a purchase decision, and so it abandons all of the “browse appeal” and impulse buying attraction of the face-out new release section. It focusses on the low-hanging fruit. The reason that is a bad idea is the low-hanging fruit is exactly where internet sellers will eat brick & mortar stores alive. As to the focus of this move being a pivot to more customer assistance, the last time I was in B&N it took over ten minutes to even find a sales associate who could explain to me what had happened to the SF new release section.

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