Historical and Contemporary Romance Author

Thursday Throwdown: Shelve the Books Already

We all know there’s something of a crisis in the bricks-and-mortar bookselling industry. Both independent and chain bookstores are strugging to survive as people are buying fewer books overall and more and more of those buyers are choosing to purchase from online retailers, especially the 1,000 lb. gorilla, Amazon. They’re also facing stiff competition from the big box chains like WalMart and Target, which stock a much more limited number of titles but provide nice discounts on the ones they do carry.

What are bookstores to do in this economy and environment? Well, I’ll tell you one thing they could do that would make me immensely happier and more likely to buy from them–shelve books on (if not before) their official release date! I cannot tell you how many times in the past few months I’ve gone into my nearest Borders or Barnes & Noble on the release date of a book I was craving only to discover it hadn’t been shelved yet. When I asked, I was told they hadn’t “broken down that box yet.”

Want specifics? How about this–although my Barnes & Noble had my book shelved several days early, my Borders didn’t bother putting out the one copy they apparently ordered for a full TWO WEEKS after its release date. TWO WEEKS! And I’m a local author. What’s up with that? And when I went there looking for Tessa Dare’s first book, Goddess of the Hunt, a few weeks later, it was also not shelved on its release date (although I did find it there a few days later).

I came to the conclusion that my Borders must be understaffed, but since the B&N had my book out few days earlier, when it was time for Tessa’s second book, Surrender of a Siren, to hit the shelves, I went there, sure they’d have it out. But they didn’t! They lost a significant sale from me as a result of this failure because I was going to buy the next two books in Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series, but since I couldn’t get everything I wanted and I knew I could also get the Westerfeld books at Target (which always stocks a good selection of YA), I left without buying anything. I went to Target two days later, where I scored everything I wanted for a lower price (and also purchased a bunch of need sundry items into the bargain…ah, convenience).

So, here’s the deal…if bookstores don’t get with the program and shelve by their release date (not the day after or two days after or a week after), it’s my personal belief that they will continue to lose more sales to the chains and to the online booksellers. Amazon was shipping my book, which had an official release date of May 26, 2009, as early as May 17. (If I had any notion of hitting any bestseller lists, that might have irritated me, since I know early release is bad for those “numbers,” but given that wasn’t even on my radar, it was actually nice to know they were sending it out to folks who’d preordered months before.) For Borders not to shelve it for a full two weeks after the release date is, IMO, unconscionable (and honestly, since the last attempt to find a book on its shelving date failed, I’m seriously considering never shopping there again).

What do you think? What do you think is killing brick-and-mortar booksellers? Am I onto something or are there other factors you’d like to discuss? I’d love to hear!


  • Clisby September 3, 2009 at 1:07 pm

    I don’t know – I read a lot, and buy a lot from bookstores (both amazon and brick & mortar), and I’ve never paid any attention to release dates. (Except for Harry Potter, which we ordered way ahead).

    Do that many ordinary readers even know the release dates of books? That is, unless it’s a blockbuster like HP, would they have any idea it wasn’t shelved?

    • admin September 3, 2009 at 1:38 pm

      I’d guess the ‘average’ reader probably doesn’t pay much attention to release dates, but I do think if you have a favorite author or have read/heard something good about a particular book that’s coming out, you might well know when it’s supposed to be released. I also know that I’m much more aware of shelving dates than I used to be because authors tend to list them on their websites.

      I just think if you go into a bookstore looking for a particular book that should be out, don’t find it, and are told “well, we haven’t broken down that box yet, sorry” with no attempt made to actually bring the book out for you–it’s a lost sale for the bookseller. And in the long run, I think that has to hurt the booseller (although it also probably hurts the author, who just lost a sale; maybe the person buys it somewhere else or maybe the person just gives up, it’s hard to know which is more likely).

  • Karen Erickson September 3, 2009 at 3:45 pm

    I’m with you, Jackie. What about the bookstores not stocking a book at all? Lauren Dane just blogged about this – Borders stocked her previous books but her latest release is available online only. What’s up with that?

    Going to my local Borders today, I noticed they did that with my friend Tracy’s book Tie Me Down. Online only it said on the computer in the store. Talk about screwing authors. Sigh…

  • Booklover1335 September 5, 2009 at 8:31 pm

    I am with you on this one Jackie. I can’t tell you how many times I have gone to an actual bookstore to purchase a book (new release or not) and not be able to find it. This is especially frustrating when you make a specific trip to this one store to buy a specific book. Instead I now buy at my superstore, like Target or Walmart, or if it is a book I know they won’t have then I order it online.

    I am tired of going out of my way to patronize a business, only to be turned away because they are not prepared. My time and money is valuable and will instead go where I now I can find what I want when I want.


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