Teddy Bears Are Welcome

I got a bit annoyed today with a post up at SF Signal complaining about Borders’ new plan to put Build a Bear kiosks and such in some of their superstores. Here’s the article with comments:

http://www.sfsignal.com/archives/2010/09/get-your-teddy-bears-out-of-my-bookstore/

And here was my (lengthy) comment:

They’ll cut the non-fiction sections first. It’s what they always do. They aren’t going to be cutting the YA section — which is having the most sales growth and which is full of SFF. They aren’t going to cut the SFFH sections because they need those for the store fiction display, as fiction, much like Build a Bear, is the big lure for bookstores even though most of the sales come from non-fiction. Fantasy is still the number one selling sub-area of fiction (and not just urban fantasy) — why would they cut it? Much easier just to dump some shelves of general fiction. Because the bookstores already overstock. They already have too many titles they can’t sell and too many copies of even the ones they can, which is a large part of why they are in this mess.

Sure, I can get mad that they’re trying to bring in more people with stuffed animals than with more books, but stuffed animals have been a highly successful tool in selling books for decades. Kids can get stuffed animals from anywhere but if they get a stuffed animal from a bookstore, a lot of them are also going to be walking out with books in their hot little hands. Frankly, if they want to have a three ring circus in the store, like in Vegas, I’m fine with it at this point. Bookstores need to be destination places, amusement parks, especially for kids, because most people don’t go into bookstores.

And what happens now is I walk into a music store — and there are books there. Not just books about music — novels. I walk into a nature gift store and there are books there. I walk into a computer game store and there are books there. I walk into a giant Toys R Us, and there are books there. I walk into a Starbucks coffeehouse and there are books there. Should those stores get rid of the books, which take up room which could be otherwise used for the merchandise for which the store was intended? Or is it a good thing that these stores are willing to stock some books as an actual draw for their customers? You can’t have it both ways.

If you want books to continue and to grow, and I include e-books in this as well, you need people. And if you want people, you have to stop treating books as if they must be kept on a secret island with as much purity as a church only for true believers, the ones who buy twenty books a year. We need to tie books into everything else that interests people as much as possible. We need books to be part of the culture, not a private cult for coffee drinkers. Introduce your game playing loving friends to game tie-in novels. Introduce your horror film loving friends to horror novels. Trick your girlfriend into getting a Build a Bear as a symbol of your love in the bookstore and then also con her into trying your favorite fantasy novel. (My daughter is a teenager and she’s still interested in Build a Bear. Have the Paint Your Own Pottery people move in too.) Seriously people, it’s not fair that the movies have all the lunchboxes. The lunchboxes should be in the bookstores attracting the back to school crowd. That’s why Amazon sells you lawnmowers along with the next Stephen King novel. Also Amazon will sell you stuffed bears and stuff your own bear kits. Why is it okay for Amazon to do that and not Borders?

As for lack of expertise, there’s a very simple reason for that. Bookstores pay less in wages than McDonald’s. Bookstores get the same people as clerks that video rental places do — students, young people, immigrants. If they work there for awhile, they will learn about books and do hand-selling, upon which publishers actually do still rely. But if you want free expertise every time, it’s on the Internet. You can do the same research on the books that you did before you walked into Best Buy. And then you could actually talk to other customers in the bookstore, actually interact, and share that expertise, providing word of mouth. While you are building a bear, perhaps.

Okay, overly snarky. But I’m just so tired of my fellow book lovers trying to drive other people away from being book lovers because it may impinge on their personal comfort. Not that I dislike the guy who isn’t thrilled to see teddy bears in his bookstore (though they’ve been there since 1985 in the kids section.) But you can tell that the guy has no kids when he complains that only coffee should be allowed near books on sale.

I don’t know if Borders’ new tactic will work. Knowing Borders, it may very well not. But right now, it actually sounds like not a bad idea to me.

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Filed under book publishing, Life, SFFH

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