Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Hand-fed Literary (Dis)Taste

My adventures in Borders started out well last night. I went straight to the books on writing section and immediately found and wanted more books than would ever be useful. I skimmed through many, decided which ones I wanted, and then wandered to the fantasy section, a soft hum of happiness buzzing through my mind.

My euphoric bubble was promptly burst.

I'd read several months ago that Borders was trimming down the number of titles they carried so that they could have more face-out books, which in test stores, increased sales. I'd not noticed a difference in my Borders since reading that article, and thought perhaps the changes had been subtle and sensible. Unfortunately, it appears my Borders was only late jumping on the bandwagon.

Last night, the shelves were gutted. Stripped expanses of bookcases and shallow protrusions of faced-out books dotted the bleak shelves where previously there had been spines pressed tightly together, hugging each case from side to side, top to bottom. Cut from the desecrated fiction sections were the lesser-known authors with their one or two titles. The isolated books that remained, now facing out, were the popular, New York Times bestsellers, the award-winners, and the televised and Hollywood success series.

Shell-shocked, I shuffled through the store, really paying attention this time, and my horror transformed to disgust. The tables I'd previously enjoyed perusing were stacked high with books only seen on TV (mostly Oprah--Dr. Oz was everywhere, as were the "Eat This, Not That" books), written by or about celebrities, and top sellers. A few tables catered to the new releases, but even those were of popular authors only, not debut authors. Hand-fed literature decided by TV personalities assaulted me from all sides, and creativity was smeared and sullied into a thing of marketing and not talent. Dazed, sick, and feeling manipulated, I found Cody and left the store as quickly as possible.

A day later, I realize my naivete. I was seeing what had always been there--the raw commercialism that is necessary for the remaining Borders stores to stay in business. Those celebrity-driven books have never bothered me before, when the rest of the selection was there, and I understand the need for prominent displays of (and usually enjoy) good fantasy stories adored by the masses--but not at the cost of new talent.

I now understand the people who've sworn off chain bookstores in favor of their local stores. I understand the aversion and even hatred of these larger stores. The blatant catering to the highest-grossing novel smacks of Borders attempting to lower the expectations of its customers, not of a wise marketing move. And yet, even with this clear bid to appeal to the masses and ignore the individual interests of their customers, large book chains aren't surviving much better than the smaller, individual bookstores.

There has to be a happy medium. There has to be a way to make money and still stock copies of lesser-known authors. There even has to be the demand for this. I can't be the only one who hunts down new authors, new stories, new talent. And I'm highly insulted by the idea that Borders will now order for me the books that they previously carried in store, so that I can wait for what should have been an instant-gratification purchase. No, thank you. If I wanted to wait, Id' just order it from Amazon myself.

Even worse, there are no individual new-book bookstores in the area. It looks like I'll be buying even more of my books from the used bookstore, which carries a small selection of new books but a gazillion used books by authors of all popularity levels.

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