Dear Barnes & Noble Booksellers (And Book Publishers)…

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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!”

Wrong.

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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.

JFK

James Floyd Kelly is a full-time writer. His latest three books are Digital Engineering with Minecraft, Tinkercad for Beginners and The Ultimate iPad. Learn more by visiting his website http://jamesfloydkelly.com