17 February 2008 by Published in: Civil War books and authors 31 comments

We have five or six Barnes & Noble stores in Columbus. A couple of them are rather small and occupy spots in strip shopping centers. One of them is quite large indeed. It’s right across the driveway from a favorite restaurant of ours for Sunday brunch. We went there for brunch today, and after eating, went across the street to the Barnes & Noble store. I wandered back to see if there was anything new in the world of Civil War history books, and was horrified to see that the Civil War section had shrunk once more, down to three shelves. It used to be an entire section of shelves and one or two in the next section, but now, it’s not half a section.

I live about six miles from this store, and they didn’t have a single copy of any of my titles there. Never mind that I’m a local author who regularly visits their store. I know it’s all about business and all, but I just can’t help being terribly offended by it. There have been times in the past–when the store had a meaningful Civil War section–when they had several of my titles in stock, and even had multiple copies of a couple of them. Today, nothing.

By comparison, we have two Borders stores in Columbus. One is a free-standing store that’s quite large, and the other is in a strip shopping center. The last time we visited one of them (a couple of weeks ago), there was about a section and a half of Civil War books, even including some obscure titles. They had three of my titles in stock, and two of them had multiple copies. What’s interesting is that the Borders store is about the same size as the Barnes & Noble store in terms of square footage, so they have similar quantities of shelf space for inventory.

It makes for a fascinating contrast in marketing strategies. Borders is, I think, much more interested in serving the interests/needs of their customers, while Barnes & Noble is very much a “what have you done for me lately” kind of place. I’ve always tended to lean toward Borders over Barnes & Noble, and the persistent shrinking of the Civil War section has pretty much clinched it for me. From now on, while I may periodically visit the Barnes & Noble store when we’re in the area, I will reserve my book buying for my visits to Borders. Barnes & Noble probably wouldn’t care even if they knew, but refusing to buy anything there is my little way of protesting the fact that Civil War literature doesn’t even get as much consideration as books on conflicts in foreign lands that never involved the U. S, or vital American interests.

And that’s just plain wrong.

We used to have a really cool little independent book store here in town, but it got driven out by the combination of the big boys and rent that was too high to sustain the operation. That store ALWAYS maintained a good inventory of Civil War books, and its passing was much mourned by me. If it was still around, I would do all of my buying there, as I did during the short time that the store operated, which was less than a year.

Scridb filter

Comments

  1. Bill Shepherd
    Sun 17th Feb 2008 at 10:11 pm

    Barnes and Noble has always done a quite poor job in it’s Civil War titles compared to Borders, based on my frequent visits to both chains. And my local B&N has also recently decreased the shelf space provided to the Civil War titles. I had to ask B&N to order in the JEB Stuart & Gettysburg book. They never replenished their supply once sold. The mega-Borders stores do carry a much better variety of titles. My Wittenberg collection has come from both stores and amazon.com. Do the publishers have any influence over these chain stores ? Or are they (the chains) to big to care ?

  2. Sun 17th Feb 2008 at 10:12 pm

    Bill,

    I honestly don’t know. I believe that Borders has more leeway, whereas from what I’ve heard, B&N takes its marching orders from corporate in New York and that their orders control, not matter what.

    Eric

  3. Paul Taylor
    Sun 17th Feb 2008 at 10:44 pm

    Eric,

    Your story is a prime example of why I try as much as possible to buy all of my books, not just Civil War stuff, from the independent bookseller, which for me pretty much means mail order. Sometimes it may be a bit more expensive and we’re blessed to be able to not worry too much about it, but frankly, I feel better giving my hard-earned dollars to the “little guy” rather than the soulless, big box store conglomerate.

    Now that I think about it, I’d say this sentiment applies to just about any purchase I make.

    Paul

  4. Todd Berkoff
    Sun 17th Feb 2008 at 11:53 pm

    Eric,

    Agreed. The Borders near me in Arlington, Va has the most extensive collection of Civil War books I’ve ever seen, including many obscure titles. The same Borders also has an entire shelf devoted to the Osprey military series, also the largest I’ve ever seen with books on every battle known to man. I think the WWII section is even larger.

    The Barnes and Noble just 1 mile away has the most pathetic Civil War section and seems to be getting smaller each time I visit.

    By the way, I recently purchased on abebooks.com a first edition of “Memoirs of William F. Bartlett,” published in 1878 — and signed by the author Francis W. Palfrey. As you may know, Palfrey was commanding officer of the 20th Mass Infantry at Antietam. Only cost me $40. Kessinger publishes a nice reprint of the memoirs.

    Todd

  5. PHW
    Mon 18th Feb 2008 at 12:17 am

    Agreed on the shelf-space at the local B&N in Colorado Springs. The titles are usually horrible with only the usual suspects (although I did find one of your titles in a B&N in Fairbanks, Alaska) available.

    I find myself buying from Amazon.com because it’s the only place I can readily find the books I am looking for.

  6. Mon 18th Feb 2008 at 12:17 am

    Eric,

    When you’re in Frederick, MD for your Monocacy research you’ll find the same radical difference in titles at the Borders near the battlefield and the Barnes and Noble. They are separated by MD 355 (Georgetown Pike) but when I shop for a book, I’ll go to Borders because they have a wide selection of books that interest me that I don’t already have. B&N seems to have the same group of standard titles and NYT non-fiction bestsellers.

    I also feel more comfortable in the history section at Borders, tall shelves stacked to the brim with new history books just make me feel good. The short shelves at B&N just don’t do it for me.
    -Nick

  7. Todd Berkoff
    Mon 18th Feb 2008 at 12:22 am

    I buy all my books on Amazon or Abebooks these days anyway. You save yourself a trip. And, what if the bookstore doesn’t have the book you want??

    While we are on the topic of books and given Mr. Coolings recent post — anyone check out his new book on the period between Seven Days and Antietam??

    Todd

  8. randy
    Mon 18th Feb 2008 at 10:52 am

    Eric:
    We have neither Borders nor Barnes & Noble in my hometown and instead have a chain called Books- A -Million. This store has a pretty good selection of CW books but honestly, when I’m looking for good CW books, I use that as an excuse to make a road trip to Gettysburg where I can visit my favorite bookstores, battlefield and bars! Still, the failure of B&N to carry your books stinks.

    Randy

  9. Mike Peters
    Mon 18th Feb 2008 at 11:01 am

    Eric,

    The only positive I can draw from B & N is that they can order almost any book for you. But I can do that from home on my PC. And ordering from their website means getting the book at a slightly discouinted price.

    I only get my magazines there.

    Mike

  10. Tony
    Mon 18th Feb 2008 at 11:03 am

    Eric,
    We have the same issue with the B&N stores in Pittsburgh, the history sections are small and getting smaller, being replaced by contemporary political books.
    While on the contrary, the Borders stores do a good job of keeping the history sections well stocked and up to date.

  11. Mon 18th Feb 2008 at 11:17 am

    I think the online sales have really hurt the storefronts of these bookstores. Both B&N and Borders probably are doing almost as much online selling as in the storefront. Overhead is much higher in the stores, so those making decisions are likely stocking what sells better and faster.
    We have only a Borders here, and a couple years back the History section used to be up in front. They moved it to the back of the store, and now the New Age crap and Fiction are up front. You can buy all the Harry Potter and Tim LaHaye stuff you want, but good luck finding a book about Lincoln. Their Civil War section went from a full shelving unit down to less than one shelf.
    When it first came out, our Borders ordered and stock our book on Stuart’s Ride. I had a book signing there and it did very well. They had about 20 copies of the book and they sold out within the first year. Nice little display touting “Local Author” and all that stuff. Did they reorder? Nope. Guess you have to sell like ol’ Harry to get reordered.
    It’s priorities – they have to stock the stuff that sells. It’s unfortunate that our kids today can name every character in the Harry Potter series, but just ask them about Robert E. Lee and they’ll probably look at you crosseyed.
    J.D.

  12. Don Gallagher
    Mon 18th Feb 2008 at 11:49 am

    Bookfinder.com The best search out there for books new and used. This site searches all the book searches like ABE, Bibliofile and Amazon. I’ve been using them for years and if you can’t find what you want then it’s not listed yet.

  13. tomrod
    Mon 18th Feb 2008 at 12:01 pm

    I remember when B&N had tons of chairs and fostered a culture of sit down, browse and buy. Now I can’t even find a chair to sit down! When I visit a B&N it’s to look at a book so I can buy it on Amazon later and to grab some Starbucks. What are the best bookstores in Gettysburg?

    Tom

  14. Don Gallagher
    Mon 18th Feb 2008 at 12:03 pm

    I just searched Bookfinder for Eric’s books and came up with at least 500 copies including a pre-order offer for “One Continuous Fight”

  15. Mike Clem
    Mon 18th Feb 2008 at 12:34 pm

    Eric,

    As someone previously noted, the Borders in Frederick, Md., offers a large selection of CW books, as well as history in general and, if it’s any comfort, I see at least one of your titles on the shelves almost every time I visit (which is usually once a month).

    In fact, I try to purchase books by my favorite authors at my local Borders because I believe their corporate policy allows each store some leeway in stocking authors and subjects based on customer demand and community interest. Hence our well-stocked CW section closer to the front of the store. Whereas, when I visit my in-laws who live near the Brandywine battlefield, I often stop by their local Borders for a wider selection on Revolutionary War titles (even though ours is not too shabby).

    Frankly, as someone who can’t pass any bookstore without stopping, I think our Borders has a better offering of general history, military history and, specifically, CW and WWII titles than many, whether chains or independents. (I still have to resort to Amazon when looking for more offerings on Napoleonics.) Perhaps that’s a reflection of the community’s interest in the subject — which might indicate that it may be worthwhile to schedule a book signing for your new Monocacy book at the Frederick store. It’s just a stone’s throw up the pike from the battlefield itself. And yes, I’m familiar with the old saw that the worst place for an author to sell his book is in a bookstore, but I believe it’s all in picking the right venue and the shameless promotion of the event that pays off in terms of publicity.

    For instance, our B&N that literally sits just across the road from Borders wouldn’t be worth the time and effort. It has such a poor history section that I find it difficult to divest myself of the gift cards I’ve received for that store! B&N is all about the bestseller and the bargain book. When it comes to history B&N, in a word, sucks.

  16. Rob Wick
    Mon 18th Feb 2008 at 12:47 pm

    OK, here is the usual disclaimer. I work for Barnes and Noble and I am in charge of the history section in our store. I do not speak for the corporate office nor do I intend this to be a reflection of anyone’s opinion but my own.

    That said, I once asked our CEO if what I’ve heard on this site and others (that the history sections are being shrunk) and in response I got a terse “No”. Yet my own eyes would disagree with that. When I first became lead over the history section, I had a Civil War section that covered three bays (a bay is one section of shelves, usually four or five). Now it covers one bay. We also have a Borders in our town and I have visited it on occasion and have found books there that we don’t have. Why is this? We are at the mercy of our buyers. I can bring a book in on my own, but I can guarantee you that within a month it will be coded for return to the publisher. We do well in the new titles (no store can stock every new book that comes out) and we have always carried Eric’s books when they are released. In fact, at one point the Stuart’s ride book was our top-seller in the Civil War section. But where we fall down are on backlist titles. Borders seems to carry more backlist stock.

    This also seems to be true in the non-CW history section. It has shrunk to the point where I am embarrassed to bring someone to it. But it is true that we can order just about any book that anyone wants, and we now even can order out of print books in the store. Many people would rather not order books, however, but as I said earlier, we cannot stock every book that someone may want. I get just about every new book I own at B&N (I get a nice discount) but most of the time I have to order them in.

    For those of you who complain here about B&N, please do me a favor. Instead of complaining here on-line, please go to the store, ask for the store manager (not the assistant or department managers, but the head honcho) and complain to him or her in person. That, in my experience, is just about the only way things change in the stores.

    Best
    Rob

  17. Mon 18th Feb 2008 at 11:29 pm

    Well said, Rob, and thanks for the information. Best to hear it from someone there, and we should all take your points to heart.

    Best,
    J.D.

  18. Tue 19th Feb 2008 at 1:22 am

    An interesting discussion.

    I have a lot of experience dealing with the chains (as you might imagine). I was going to post on this subject on my blog in the near future. I will try to do so within the next few days and shed some light on this from a publisher’s perspective.

    http://www.savasbeatie.blogspot.com

    –tps

  19. Phil LeDuc
    Tue 19th Feb 2008 at 2:05 am

    I recall commenting on this subject elsewhere a while back, and those comments still hold true. Out here in Seattle, not necessarily the hotbed of Civil War interest that a city or town closer to the battlefields might be, Borders beats B&N all to heck in its selection of Civil War (including Lincoln) titles. Looking at each chain’s downtown Seattle store, Borders (where I was just this afternoon to use my 40%-off coupon) has 10 shelves devoted to the Civil War. B&N has about three. I’ll add that I also greatly prefer the chronological arrangement that Borders uses in its American History section, as opposed to the alphabetized-by-author scheme that B&N uses. Having said all that though, I still buy most of my books through Amazon.com – the almost unlimited selection and discounted pricing make it tough to beat. I have no doubt that I’ll be purchasing your Gettysburg retreat book through them when it’s available. In fact, it’s already in my In-Basket there.

  20. Tue 19th Feb 2008 at 9:13 am

    This just in from Daytona, Florida:

    Charlie Ray-Adam Pruit Racing (CR-AP Racing) announces a full year sponsorship on their number 72 Ford Fusion. Now the car driven by Robert “Bubba” Jones, Jr. will be sponsored by Borders Books. Jones, during a fan Q&A session stated, “I’ve always liked book, specially them wat have pictures.”

    A spokesperson for Borders stated this move part of the company’s marketing strategy to reach out to a customer base that otherwise was untapped. “There aren’t a lot of Borders bookstores in the Rural South, so we hope this brings our products to that growing customer base.” As for other components of the strategy, the Borders representative said, “We plan to reduce some store space allocated to history books, mostly Civil War books, to make room for offerings like the ‘The Big Book of Earnhardt’ and ‘A Catalog of NASCAR Die Cast,’ but that won’t change our on line offerings.” When pressed for more details, the spokesperson said, “We’ll just get rid of all those Newt Gingrich books on Gettysburg to open up space!”

  21. Tue 19th Feb 2008 at 10:56 am

    Too funny, Cas 🙂

    (I agree about getting rid of the Gingrich books…)

    J.D.

  22. Tue 19th Feb 2008 at 11:20 am

    If “What is past is prologe…” then are the Gingrich books an infomercial played at 3 am?

    Seriously I’ve thought about jumping on the band wagon with an offering of “A Visual Tour of the Sites Related to the Alternate History of Gettysburg.” But when the book is applied to the geography, the fiction falls apart. Brigade fronts extending over 2 miles? Come on!

  23. Tue 19th Feb 2008 at 2:57 pm

    Eric,

    With all due respect to the big boxes, there are better ways to get good Civil War Books. Virtual Book Signing provides a live monthly book signing event with all the best authors. We are planning an event for one of Savas’ new books on cavalry during the Gettysburg campaign this coming May 17th. Check out past events on our Archive page. I am convinced that this is how people will be finding their favorite books as time goes on.

    Best Regards,

    Bjorn
    Abraham Lincoln Book Shop
    Chicago

  24. Tue 19th Feb 2008 at 3:45 pm

    Bjorn,

    Not only am I aware of that May 17 event, I will be there. It’s my book. 🙂

    Eric

  25. Tue 19th Feb 2008 at 4:39 pm

    Bjorn,

    I’ll be there as well. It’s also my book… check the cover of it…

    🙂

    J.D.

  26. John Foskett
    Sun 02nd Mar 2008 at 11:42 am

    Eric:
    Great observation about the Borders/B&N difference. The downtown Boston Borders has a good four rows of 6 or so foot bookshelves for ACW books, usually has most of what gets distributed through chain stores, and most of the newly-release stuff. The B&N down the street closed and none in the area remotely approaches that coverage. I’ve been able to find most of yours at the Borders (although I often order through Amazon due to better discounts and no sales tax). Anecdotally, the Borders inventory gets sold, too. Often a new release is on the shelf and seems to be gone within two weeks. I suppose B&N wonders why they had to close their store……..

  27. Phil LeDuc
    Wed 12th Mar 2008 at 1:54 pm

    This is a rather late addition to your post, Eric, but I found it interesting; I wonder if it has any implications for Borders’ stocking of Civil War titles specifically and history titles in general. According to an article in this morning’s Wall Street Journal, Borders is going to display more books with their covers showing, thus relying on cover art to sell more books. The flip side of this is that a typical Borders store will shrink its inventory (selection) by 5-10%. What do you – as an author and customer – and your readers (both book and blog) think about this approach?

    A side note regarding cover art – I’m afraid I can’t find anything good to say about putting a close-up of Paul Giamatti’s face on the cover of David McCullough’s “John Adams”. I realize it’s cross-publicizing with the new HBO mini-series, but jeesh!

  28. Wed 12th Mar 2008 at 2:54 pm

    Phil,

    If it’s good cover art, then it makes sense. Few of my books have had ugly cover art, so hopefully, it will help.

    Eric

  29. a bookseller
    Sun 27th Apr 2008 at 5:39 pm

    Hi,
    I am a bookseller at Barnes & Noble in Gulfport, MS. and it must be a deep south quirk, but we have not only 3 shelves in our Civil War section but a full 3 bays of Civil War titles. However, you must know that here in the deep south we are still fighting the war and will probably continue to do so until we win it. Therein lies the difference.

  30. Jack W.
    Sat 02nd Aug 2008 at 9:22 pm

    “Borders is, I think, much more interested in serving the interests/needs of their customers, while Barnes & Noble is very much a “what have you done for me lately” kind of place”

    I think that most B&N stores are customer oriented. However, if there are hundreds of customers wanting more selection in religious fiction for any one–even a local author–who wants to see books on the Civil War, then there will be more space for the books there is more demand for. From a retail perspective, this *is* serving the needs of the customer base; feedback to the store that you would like to see a particular book on the shelf may get it there, but it won’t stay unless sales show that there is a real local demand for the title.

  31. Sarah
    Mon 29th Dec 2008 at 3:55 pm

    I think that Barnes and Noble is more interested in serving the people. They have much better customer service than Borders. I get bery irriated in Borders because I find the Booksellers rude and apathetic. The reason why your book probably is not on the shelf is becuase it is most likely a print on demand book, and Barnes and Nobles will not stock them on their shelves. They will order them. But they will not stock them because if your book is not purchased, the store will lose money. Borders will… but they are also boing under.

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