Recently I went to my local Borders with my daughter. I was looking for more board books by Charles Reasoner – Inside Jolly Roger’s Pirate Ship (Story Book). My daughter LOVES his books. She spends hours sitting on our laps going through the pages identifying things. Great books. Anyway I ended up ordering them all from Amazon, but that’s not what this post is about. BTW, Borders didn’t have a single one. This post is really about how picture books are treated at Borders. At least the one I went to.
Picture books are, for the most part, displayed with the spine out. Only the spine. I’d estimate 90% of the picture books were displayed spine out, with a special Holiday selection displayed cover out. Something is wrong here.I know picture books are large. If you displayed them cover out they would take up more floor space. So it is no doubt efficient to display them spine out. Of course this completely evaporates one of the key advantages picture books have. Interesting, big, cool, dynamic, covers. If one reflects on the ‘spine out’ decision, does some math, and thinks about modern retailing, you see this is a horrible mistake that costs Borders a lot of sales.
Picture books are about how words and pictures work together and pictures sell the books to a great extent. I am not underestimating the value of a well written picture book, but for me, most often, those covers do move me to look at the books. And when I can’t see the covers without wrestling one off a tightly packed shelf and then try to jam it back in (no doubt ripping the cover) I pass on buying them. More then once I have been shopping for books, and the cover of a picture book grabs my attention. I look at it and buy it. That’s how Borders makes money.But in this situation they are throwing away sales.I have worked for some of the biggest companies in the world. Certainly two of the largest media companies in the world, Sony and Walt Disney. I know bad decisions get made, and are put into practice, and my guess is some MBA at ‘central’ came up with the idea that they could carry more stock by displaying spine out. And as sales fall for picture books in their stores, the MBA says “See, the aren’t even paying for their current shelf space.” They are completely ignoring the unique buying proposal a picture books has to offer. More than any other book genre the picture book gets to say “HEY! Look at me! Am I cool and interesting or what?!” But no, we get spines at Borders. Author, Illustrator, Publisher. Great…Really fascinating.
I would guess, that if they added 25% more shelf space dedicated to showing picture books cover out, their sales would increase more than 30%. People would impulse buy. People would be attracted to a title. Heck, I have a better opportunity to wander and look at books on Amazon. It’s easier to impulse buy electronically than wander a 6 foot shelf with 90 titles, turning my head to read the spines sideways. Physical (brick and mortar) bookstores should offer that advantage over electronic stores. The ability to easily browse and discover things. But with picture books, that means seeing the art. Not the spine!
On Amazon it is easier to buy if you know exactly what you want. It beats running to Borders, parking and hoping the book is there. But much like newspapers and how they have not taken advantage of one of their great assets (the comics pages) Borders seems intent to throw away the opportunity to show-off their merchandise. It’s a disservice to customers, publishers and book creators.Retail sales involves understanding the unique attributes of what you have to sell.
Given the current retail sales world, I would think they would take every opportunity to create interest in what they have on their shelves. They don’t always have to compete on price, if they allow me to fall in love with something. Or at least know it is there. I want to discover an interesting new artist or writer that I didn’t go to Borders to buy. I want to be attracted by the pictures books main selling point, the cover. That won’t happen by looking at spines. Picture books need to be seen. Not just read.