Historical and Contemporary Romance Author

Musing on Monday: Placement Does Matter

Last week, I asked you all what most influenced your book buying decisions. The results (you can see them yourself by clicking “View Results” on the poll in the right margin) were quite interesting to me, mainly because they confirmed my long-held believe that there’s not much an author can do to materially affect her book’s sales. I was especially interested to see that very few people cited advertisements or online blog appearances as having a significant impact on their buying choices.

What I did notice, however, is that the majority of the respondents said the book’s cover, title, and blurb, along with a scan of its contents was a factor in their choices. That makes sense to me. I know those are a factor in my decisions as well, along with the second-biggest vote-getter, word of mouth recommentations from friends and family. But while most everyone knows that picking up and reading/handling the book is an important part of their book-buying choices, few of you acknowledged that the book’s placement in the store or availability in stores like Target/Walmart had an affect on what you choose to buy.

Now, I suppose if you do a lot of research on books before you even walk into the bookstore and have a very strong idea of what you’re looking for when you get there (and I generally do), store placement/distribution probably doesn’t have much effect on what you purchase. You’ll go searching in the stack for that book you’re interested in whether you can find it easily or not.

But what about those impulse buys? I have to admit, store placement makes a huge difference to me, because I certainly haven’t got the time to go through ALL the books that are shelved, spine-out only, in the romance section to see if the cover and title then the blurb and contents grab me. So it’s just a fact that the books that are shelved face out, whether in the front of the store or on end caps and tables, are going to draw more attention from me unless I’m looking for something specific. And while the cover and title may entice me to pick up the book, the blurb may intrigue me, and the contents may actually induce me to buy, unless I SEE that cover and title, I’m never going to pick the book up in the first place unless I’m actively looking for it.

This is even more true if you do most of your book-buying (as I suspect the majority of Americans do) not at book stores that shelve a wide variety of titles, but at big box chains like WalMart, Target, and Costco. Everything at those retailers is stocked face out, but it’s only a limited subset of everything that’s available at any given time. Those stores have, quite honestly, a huge impact on the reading tastes of Americans. A book that doesn’t get stocked in WalMart, for example, will generally wind up with an initial print run of less than half a book that they do pick up.

All of this makes it tough for authors whose books don’t get picked up by those big chain stores AND whose publishers don’t choose to purchase that face-out space in brick-and-more stores. Your initial print run is pretty much guaranteed to be under 30,000 books. And many potential book buyers who might really like your book will never even see it, because it will be buried in the shelves at Borders or B. Dalton, spine out, between hundreds of other spine-out books. It’ll be there for people who are actually looking for it, and that’s a good thing. No one can buy a book that isn’t stocked. But it’s an uphill battle to get exposure for a book unless the publisher buys it, because there just isn’t a whole lot the author can buy that works half as well.

6 Comments

  • Amie Stuart August 24, 2009 at 4:17 pm

    And fact is that sales at places like Target can really help “make” an author. Pretty much every time I walk through the door at Target, I buy a book. I also buy one about half the time I go grocery shopping. I rarely if EVER buy one at Walgreens because their selection which was 4-5 feet of books just got reduced to like 18-24 inches (wide) of books, and like you, I do quite a bit of research but I’m also a huge impulse buyer.

    It’s all Target’s fault!

    Reply
  • Amie Stuart August 24, 2009 at 4:18 pm

    PS Huge impulse buyer AND Target carries a GREAT selection of Women’s Fiction which is my poison of choice (and a well stocked YA section also)

    Reply
  • Booklover1335 August 24, 2009 at 7:08 pm

    Hey Jackie,
    Book placement play absolutely no part in my book buying. I have been burned too many times by impulse buys that I no longer buy books on impulse. Now I may pick up a book at the library on impulse, but every single book that I buy in a store…I go to buy that specific book or books. I make all of my decisions at home after reading blurbs, reviews and recommendations. Author blog tours help a lot in bringing them to my attention, but I still check them out before I decide to buy.

    I am sure that placement in retail stores plays a large part for impulse buyers, but for a lot of other buyers like me…they buy online with retailers such as Amazon, Barnes and Noble,…and since they do a lot of business online placement doesn’t have the same kind of impact (unless you count sales ranks)

    Reply
  • Evangeline August 26, 2009 at 8:03 pm

    I just look at the book sections of WM and Target these days, because the ones in my area have parsed down their romance sections, while beefing up the sf/f and YA. I do most of my shopping online or at Borders/B&N–which is a different shopping experience, as you recognize.

    And while I do have enough leisure time to circle a bookstore multiple times, placement does matter because my eye is more likely to land upon a book shelved outward than spine-outward, unless I’m searching for a specific author. I haven’t picked up a book b/c of word-of-mouth in a while because I’m picky–these days, I stick to favorite authors, buys based on blurbs/excerpts, and authors I “know” (like you, Tessa, Sherry, Meredith, etc).

    But the so-called average reader isn’t online, nor are they checking out Romantic Times for upcoming releases, and reading review sites. So…what can you do if you don’t have pre-publication buzz or publishing dollars behind you? I think the reader and author blog saturation level is nearing the brink, and with more and more established authors creating group blogs, I feel it dilutes the power formerly held by individual or group blogs run by unpublished/debut/mid-list writers. Geez…you have got to be tough to make it in this industry.

    Reply
  • Amie Stuart August 27, 2009 at 10:32 am

    I think the reader and author blog saturation level is nearing the brink, and with more and more established authors creating group blogs, I feel it dilutes the power formerly held by individual or group blogs run by unpublished/debut/mid-list writers.

    Evangeline I completely agree with you. Frankly, I think we passed the saturation level ages ago 🙁 And it won’t be too long before Twitter reaches it too–if it hasn’t already.

    I DO check out recommendations or authors who get a lot of buzz but I’ve been burned one too many times so even though I buy a lot of books (or what is, to me, a lot of books) I’m still pretty picky about how I spend my book buying dollars.

    That said, going back to your point about saturation, too much buzz IMO is as bad as none. If I feel like blogs and twitter are just pounding the FRACK out of a book…I won’t touch it with a ten foot poll.

    Reply
  • Kris Eton August 27, 2009 at 1:03 pm

    Actually, this post dovetails, for me, with your post from Wednesday…the one above this one. I went hunting for the new Tessa Dare on Tuesday at the Books-a-Million down the road from me. It wasn’t there. In fact, I would never go to this particular BAM again b/c they seemed to only have ONE copy of every book. That’s it! How can a store possibly keep up with having books on the shelves this way?

    Then, I stopped at the Target…hoping it would be there. I scanned the shelves…and, there, at the VERY BOTTOM tucked in a corner was the book. What AWFUL placement! For a brand new release, I thought that sucked ass.

    But I was SO glad to find it. Started it last night. Woot!

    Reply

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