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Do You Care if Borders Doesn’t Stock All Science Fiction Books?

There has been some talk lately about Borders’ recent decisions to not stock some science fiction books, as initially noted by some authors (like Tobias S. Buckell, Gregory Frost, Pat Cadigan, and Gwenda Bond).

Andrew Wheeler weighed in recently and looked at books getting “skipped over” by the bookstore. He followed up with some additional side issues as well.

In response to all this, io9 asked: Should SF Writers Boycott Borders? Then Neil Gaiman responded: “But they aren’t ‘pulling Sci-Fi off the shelves’. They are not stocking some new books. There’s a difference, and it’s a huge one.” (For his troubles, Neil has received misguided hate mail from Borders employees.)

It’s a thorny issue, to be sure. On one side you have Borders who are making business decision to try and increase profits. On another, you have folks who worry that science fiction is already hurting, sales-wise, and this will only make it worse. And of course, there are the authors and publishers who worry that the books will sell less.

What does this mean to the reader? Hardcore fans probably won’t care as they will seek the book through another store or online. Sales may decrease from casual browsers, I suppose, who would occasionally buy a book only because they saw it on a shelf.

But I ask you, dear reader: Do you personally care if Borders doesn’t stock all he science fiction titles? Will that stop you from buying it, or will you seek it elsewhere?

About John DeNardo (13013 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

22 Comments on Do You Care if Borders Doesn’t Stock All Science Fiction Books?

  1. It saddens me that Borders takes that stance, but I know I will get the book I want no matter what obstacles are in the way…

  2. I am always surprised that I can’t find some books in brick and mortar book stores.   I made a decision some time ago that I am a SF&F fan.  I will seek out the newest and hopefuly most ineresting books in the field whether Borders caries it or not.  Though, if it weren’t for Amazon I am not sure what I would do…

  3. Paul Harper // October 22, 2008 at 4:14 am //

    I couldn’t care less, to be honest. Borders isn’t the only book store out there, and serious folk will usually buy theirs online anyway. If Borders wants to reduce its marketing strategy to “lowest common denominator” like so much of the rest of the country, then so be it. Their loss in the end.

  4. It makes me annoyed on general principals, but honestly almost all my books either come from Amazon.com or used book stores. I don’t think Borders ever has had a very good SF selection.

  5. It saddens me that Borders has come to this. I don’t think its a “SF is da evil” sort of philosophy, but rather an attempt by Borders to get as much sales as they can from the books that they order, in an effort to stay afloat.

    What that means is midlist SF stuff is going to get axed. Its failing bookstore economics. Unfortunately, some very good authors like Buckell take it on the chin.  Wildly successful authors like Gaiman won’t. 

    What it means to me is that if I can’t get a particular book in Borders, I will get it somewhere else (Amazon, Powells, etc).  

  6. Borders is struggling to survive at the moment. They’re not making the same decisions that a healthy company could make. They don’t have the spending money, and I’m sure that their buying strategy is not limited to spec fiction titles.

  7. That’s why I generally don’t shop at brick and mortar stores for books I really want. My wife and I go to the B&N coffee shop on Sunday mornings with two other couples and hang for a couple of hours drinking coffee and reading magazines for free. On the way to the toilet, I may walk through the SF section just to see what’s new and often come away saying to myself, “Eh…same old stuff”.

    Yes, part of the problem is the profit motive of chain stores but this goes hand in hand with the profit motive of publishing companies as well. The mid-list is gone, replaced by what a publisher thinks can sell to the lowest common denominator – easy to read media tie-ins, fantasy bricks and endless novels featuring sexy vampires and magical detectives.

  8. Obviously they can’t stock “all” titles of any genre, but it does bother me inasmuch as it affects various writers’ ability to make a living. While most if not all writers may not be in it for the cash, it’s what allows them to do what they do full-time. Making less money will only drive some of those full-time writers out of the business or, at best, to the role of part-time writers. That, in turn, affects volume (which maybe isn’t a bad thing) meaning customers will have less to choose from and Borders less titles to stock. So, maybe, in the end, it all works out. 😉

  9. The only time I buy from Borders is when they give me 30% off coupons that make the book cheaper to buy from them then from amazon.com.

    I actually don’t feel bad for the authors. If their book is good enough, word of mouth will spread the news. Relying on casual book browsers to purchase your book of off Borders’ shelf doesn’t pull at my heart strings. There are too many SF books out there for me to buy and read them all. I am very selective about my purchases. But could just be me.

     

  10. Let’s admit the role of the brick and mortar bookstore for the average consumer–immediate convenience. If I know there’s a book I want but I don’t need it TODAY, I’ll almost invariably find it cheaper online. Immediate gratification is the only advantage traditional retailers have left. (And don’t say service, either, as Amazon is usually better at recommending stuff than the average retail staffer.)

    Thus, if Borders’ sole function is to be the outlet of choice for the “quick, I need it NOW” crowd, then it only makes sense for them to get the books that will appeal to the widest possible audiences.They aren’t trying to be the encyclopedic resource for the discerning consumer, they’re trying to be the default choice for the knee-jerk bookreader.

    And so far as I can tell, Borders actually does a VERY good job at this role. Borders online, which is a shell site run on the Amazon system, actually lets me check store inventories online so I can know before I leave the house if the item I want is in stock. Borders is fighting the battle it can win, and I won’t fault them for that.

  11. Jay Garmon:

    Let’s admit the role of the brick and mortar bookstore for the average consumer–immediate convenience. If I know there’s a book I want but I don’t need it TODAY, I’ll almost invariably find it cheaper online. Immediate gratification is the only advantage traditional retailers have left. (And don’t say service, either, as Amazon is usually better at recommending stuff than the average retail staffer.)

    Thus, if Borders’ sole function is to be the outlet of choice for the “quick, I need it NOW” crowd, then it only makes sense for them to get the books that will appeal to the widest possible audiences.They aren’t trying to be the encyclopedic resource for the discerning consumer, they’re trying to be the default choice for the knee-jerk bookreader.

    Ding! Quoted for the truth.

    When Charlie Stross, Alastair Reynolds, Peter Watts or Karl Schroeder release a new book, I cruise by the bookstores to see if they have it. And the answer this year has been “NO! But we can order that for you. It would take a week to 10 days to get here. No, we won’t match our online store’s discount on the book. Hey wait! Where are you going?” Pity, because whether the clerks, buyers, managers or CEO’s know it or not – they are in competition with those online sites and if I can’t snag the book there, right now, I’ll go elsewhere, get it cheaper and with quicker shipping.

    Combine it with decreasing margins for retail and publishing and you have an ugly spiral there. Paul is right though – the mid-list authors do take it on the chin and it impacts their production.

  12. I’ve noticed how disappointing the SF stock at Borders has been of late.  But the opposite seems to be true at Barnes and Noble.  Here in Dallas we have one B&N that is particularly good at stocking small press (and some import!) titles.  I see books by Pyr, Nightshade and Golden Gryphon all the time.

    I recently visited and saw two copies of Swiftly by Adam Roberts (from Gollancz).  I had heard good things about the book but had made no effort to order the book.  Sometimes I want to pick a book up, thumb through it and read a few excerpts from the first half.  I did this with Swiftly and found it quite interesting.  So I bought it–yes, at full price.  Seems to me that this B&N is taking a chance on lesser known authors and it was worthwhile for me to buy the book at the store (rather than going home to order it).  I like to suport a store that takes chances–and one that gives me the opportunity to explore and discover good new books.

  13. Mark Stephenson // October 22, 2008 at 10:11 am //

    Borders and other brick and mortar stores are places I visit just to browse and maybe make a “find” I didn’t expect.  However, when it comes to seriously wanting a particular title, especially one from a specialty house like Pyr or some other, what the hell do I need Borders for when there’s Amazon and AmazonUK?  And don’t even get me started on Abebooks for antiquarian stuff, if paperbacks from the 1960s in mint condition are truly antiquarian.  I have gotten some terrific finds from them, including a set of the “unauthorized” Ace LOTR Trilogy editions from 1965 with the Jack Gaughan covers.  Last but not least, Ebay has come through for me many times.   So the Borders decision doesn’t bother me at all.  I’m guessing it would if I was a professional SF writer.

  14. Harris Yulin's Goatee // October 22, 2008 at 12:44 pm //

    I’ve never been to a Border’s, but for most chain brick and morters, cutting the midlist SF&F is not going to make much of a difference in the amount of product they carry. The Kroger down the block from my local B&N has more SF in stock.

  15. Both the local Borders and the local B&N have always done it, don’t know if it is “official policy”, but they don’t stock all (for example) the hardcover releases every month. So maybe 50% of the time I end up ordering what I was waiting for in terms of new releases.

    The positive end of that is that oftentimes the next book to come from that author is stocked. And if I consistently order from one publisher, they start to stock more stuff by that publisher.

    So both shops seem to be “listening” to the sales trends.

  16. I’ve avoided big chain stores like Borders and B&N for years now.  Of course I’m lucky to have one of the best independent SF&F stores, Mysterious Galaxy, right here in San Diego.  They have an amazing selection of genre books, and if they don’t have it, they’ll special order it for me.  I’ve occasionally bought things from Amazon (because I occasionally get gift certificates), but I prefer supporting an indie store whenever I can. 

  17. I don’t care if Borders exists, let alone what they stock.

  18. As Wheeler says, it’s not a new thing. What’s new is that some very prominent mid-list and category bestselling authors are getting skipped by a chain that is in financial hotwater. And this is a direct result of the economic problems of the last couple of years and the meltdown recession we’re having now in the English-language markets and elsewhere. When recessions occur, publishers dump lower level authors from their lists in a purge and booksellers cut way down on their inventory. SFF, being one of the most popular fiction sectors, will do better than most probably, but the genres are so large now, with so many titles, that a lot of authors will still be cut or stymied. On the bright side, there are now a lot of venues on-line that make it easier to find books you want and trans-national publishing means you have more access to authors from other countries. On the dark side, not everyone is online and we can lose a lot of interesting authors and specialty SFF bookstores that depend on mid-list titles in an economic dip like this. If Borders goes under and doesn’t get bought, then there are even fewer bookstores in the U.S., and major marketing power is in the hands of an increasingly small number of companies. Boycotting Borders so that it goes under and we lose the opportunity for any SFF titles to be sold in its stores is not the answer. Sometimes a Borders store is the only store in the neighborhood. Shrinking the market is never good. Buying from chains, independents, specialty and online sources, depending on prices, budget and your particular needs is probably a better strategy.

  19. It’s quite simple. If Borders doesn’t have the book I’m looking for, I try B&N, Amazon, or a library.

  20. S. F. Murphy // October 22, 2008 at 11:24 pm //

    If I want a book badly enough, I will find a way to get it. 

    That said, if one book monger doesn’t stock something I want, for whatever reason, I will not get a hair up my rear end and decide, “No, I’m not buying from them anymore.”

    On the other hand, charging me full price for an iced tea refill has cost on Border’s Bookstore my business. 

    Besides, too many other books there that I do want out of the Bargain section, such as those Oxford’s Guides to Constitutional Law, for example. 

    That said, if I think a book sucks, then it really doesn’t matter to me if it is on the shelf or not.  I won’t waste my money on it.  So at the end of the day, the point is moot.

    Respects,

    S. F. Murphy

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