Browsing at B & N

July 11th, 2017 by Max Allan Collins

Remember a few weeks ago when I encouraged everyone to buy books at their favorite brick-and-mortar store? By this I wasn’t suggesting that you find a store where you can buy brick and mortar. Rather, I was hoping you would not spend all of your money online, hastening the death of retail.

One of the bookstores I encouraged you to frequent was Barnes & Noble. With Borders gone, and some communities having no indie bookstore, B & N is about all that’s still standing. We have a BAM! (Books-a-Million) in nearby Davenport, and I trade there a lot. If you’re a member of their frequent buyer club, you get a discount coupon for at least $5 on a $25 purchase every week. Nice store.

Barnes & Noble is good about giving members of their club 20%-off-a-single-item coupons frequently. These are nice little surprises in the snail mail every couple of months. Such things take the sting out of buying a book or blu-ray at a price higher than the online option. B & N is weird in that department, by the way – they are routinely cheaper online, and the stores don’t (or won’t or can’t afford to) match their own online price.

A bigger problem is that B & N corporate has made some decisions about their brick-and-mortars that are not helping the whole decline of retail thing. And now a personal story. (Warning: I’ve told better ones.)

I tend to work six days a week and take one unashamed day off. But when I am really swamped, as I have been lately, Barb and I will take half-days off, usually a morning where we drive to the nearby Quad Cities, have breakfast or an early lunch, shop at BAM! and B & N (that’s where I go – Barb usually has other retail destinations), and are back very early afternoon for more work. Such is our devotion to our readers. And the bill collectors.

On my last two trips to the Davenport Barnes & Noble – a lovely, big store with very nice and often knowledgeable staff – I have had several of those 20% off coupons burning a hole in my billfold. Now I am about as hard to get money out of at a bookstore as convincing a sailor on leave that debauchery is worth paying for.

And twice I have spent not a dime.

Here’s the problem. Barnes & Noble has been rearranging their stores in a fashion that indicates either (a) someone is secretly trying to end the brick-and-mortar aspect of their business, or (b) is desperately trying to get fired. For some years, B & N has had – in each section (Mystery, Biography, what have you) – a display at the head of that section that showcases new titles, face out. The corporate genius in question has decided to instead salt those new titles through the existing stock. Occasionally the new titles are face out, and of course the bestseller type books sit out on various new releases tables.

But for the most part, as a shopper, you either have to have the patience to sort through everything in a section to find new titles, or know exactly what you’re looking for. In the latter case, it’s obviously easier to do that online.

Someone clearly doesn’t understand the shopping experience. Someone associated with bookselling actually doesn’t seem familiar with the term “browsing.”

If searching within a section (Science Fiction, Humor, whatever) isn’t enough to frustrate you, might I suggest the B & N blu-ray/DVD/CD section? (Not all B & Ns have those, but many do.) To further make your shopping experience a Bataan Death March chore, B & N has abandoned individual sections to put all CDs (except classical) together, alphabetically. So you can pick up both the Sid Vicious and Frank Sinatra versions of “My Way” in the same area, if you know your alphabet.

For a blu-ray collector like me, the best (and by that I mean “worst”) is yet to come. The blu-ray section is no more. Instead, a massive section combining DVDs and blu-rays now awaits your browsing pleasure (I also don’t really mean “pleasure”) (sarcasm is fun). Blu-ray buyers tend to be snobs – they avoid DVD unless absolutely necessary. I’m not sure my son buys any DVDs any more. And I would under no circumstances buy a DVD of something available on blu-ray.

Also, the new release blu-rays were formerly displayed on a little shelf above the bins. No more. End caps and other displays may showcase new titles, but again blu-rays and DVDs are mixed.

This may in part reflect the cutting back on help in that section of the B & N stores. With no one to ask, “May I help you,” there are fewer places to look. If you know your alphabet, you’re in business! Hope you have plenty of time on your hands and don’t have to get home to entertain America with your fiction.

What these new policies at B & N are doing is discouraging the brick-and-mortar shopping experience. It’s now not only cheaper and easier to shop online, it’s no longer less fun. By which I mean, it’s more fun.

I still encourage you to shop at B & N, but also to politely complain about the new user-unfriendly sections throughout their stores. If I can go there twice on shopping expedition and return with my 20% off coupons still tucked away, something is seriously, seriously wrong.

* * *

Here’s a nice Jon Breen EQMM review of A Long Time Dead. Jon doesn’t really like Mickey Spillane, but he likes me. Watch him deal with that. (Answer to his question: Collins.)

This is an article on the newly turned-up photographic evidence that supports my Amelia Earhart theory as expressed in Flying Blind – back in 1999! That book is mentioned in the comments.

Here’s yet another of those write-ups about movies you didn’t know were from graphic novels, with Road to Perdition nicely mentioned.

Finally, here’s a lovely review of Quarry’s Vote.


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6 Responses to “Browsing at B & N”

  1. stephen borer says:

    This discovered photo & the new tv doc. better result in increased sales of FLYING BLIND ; not being an expert of photos of Amelia Earhart from the back, I’m a bit doubtful. Of course, I thought for decades that the most published foto of the Loch Ness Monster was not ‘faked’. Hmmm.. Nate Heller is hired by a famous Scottish actor in 1985 to investigate ‘Nessie’…

  2. Mike Doran says:

    MAC, my old, old old friend:

    It’s a miserable, humid day here on the Southwest Side, it’s 10 in the AM, I’m having trouble waking up –

    – and now, thanks to your cheery note, I’m starting to have major flashbacks about Kroch’s & Brentano’s.

    Since you’re in my demographic, you and Barb doubtless remember K&B from your many long-ago sorties into Chicagoland, in search of volumes old and new.

    For non-Chicagoans, and anyone under A Certain Age, Kroch’s was like the Walgreen’s of bookstores.

    There was the Big Store on Wabash Ave., at least four smaller stores in the Loop, two more on Michigan Ave. (aka The Magic Mile), and many, many outlets in the city and suburban malls (never knew the exact number, but I always thought there were at least 20 at some point).

    Also recalling the full page ad on page 2 of the Tribune‘s book section (back when they had a book section), with Carl Kroch’s chatty column on things bookish.

    Not only that, but K&B had competition – a number of well-appointed booksellers just in the Loop and on Boul Mich – and this was long before Barnes & Noble and Borders mobilized into mercantile behemoths.

    Not to mention the many second-hand stores on and around North Clark Street and Lincoln Avenue …

    … in the words of the Prophets, WHA’ HOPPEN ??!!??

    When I was Younger (*sigh*), I had this fantasy that I would spend my later years covering all the places where I could find older books that I’d loved as a youth.
    Nearly all of them are gone now.

    The collapse of Kroch’s & Brentano’s, just at the Millenium, threw me for the loop (pardon the expression) of my lifetime; all of Chicago’s wondered why – and how.
    (There was talk that Carl Kroch had taken a major loss when he was “persuaded” to buy into the Cincinnati Reds during the Marge Schott Era, but I could never make heads or tails out of that …)
    Maybe it was just That Ole Debbil Economy …

    Oh Well, That Was Then –
    – and unfortunately, This Is Now.

    There are about a half-dozen Barnes & Nobles that I can get to (after soul-killing bus-and-train travel), all of which have the same compulsive rearrangement issues you describe here.
    The BAM! in the Loop (which used to be Crown Books) just went under; there’s one in a mall not far from where I live – and it’s very small …
    Still holding on are some Half Price Books in various suburbs (see bus-and-train, above); I have a new set of discount coupons that I start burning off next week, if I can get out …
    … and also my latest couple of B&N 20% cards …
    .. but still, I find myself at Amazon and Alibris almost every day, looking for things that literally can’t be found anywhere else.
    My declining years are picking up speed at an uncomfortable rate –
    – but I scarcely need to tell you that, do I?

    Max & Barb –
    – Please come back to Centuries & Sleuths.
    Sooner rather than later.
    And remember – do it on an afternoon (see again bus-and-train, above).

    And have a nice day!
    (Try to, anyway …)

  3. Fred Blosser says:

    Mike Doran’s comments about Kroch’s & Brentano’s remind me that my friend Faith clued me in on the K&B mail-order search service when I was in college in WVa. I bought used Firsts of THE HARD-BOILED OMNIBUS and KISS TOMORROW GOODBYE through the K&B service over the next year or so (1969-70). In the late ’70s, on business trips to Chicago, I discovered and frequented the Wabash Ave store, a great place. There was also Rose Discount Record Store on S. Wabash that I visited on the same trips (one visit yielded a hard-to-find Poo Records LP of Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack for THE HILLS RUN RED).

    And I sadly remember other brick-and-mortar places, no longer with us, like the newsstand in DC beside the National Press Club where I picked up THE BROKER and THE DEALER, the Walden’s at Tysons Corner where I purchased THE BROKER’S WIFE and THE SLASHER, and Crown Books in McLean where i bought HUSH MONEY, HARD CASH, and SCRATCH FEVER. I’m not sure if “newsstand” is even in the lexicon anymore. The Crown Books in McLean became a Books-a-Million after Crown went bust, a casualty of the suicidal Haft family feud, and in turn that Books-a-Million closed last year. I was always amused that B-a-M’s huge porn mag section was located only a few steps from their shelves and shelves of religious books for the church-lady demographic.

    Al, call me a conspiracy theorist, but I’m convinced that those recent missteps by B&N are calculated first moves in a larger plan to drive their remaining customers on-line so that the bean-counters can shutter the brick-and-mortar outlets for good.

  4. David Pires says:

    My local Barnes & Noble (Burlington, MA) recently went through the transformation. I agree, the plan must be to drive away book lovers.

  5. Rob Brooks says:

    I went into B&N last weekend looking for Stephen King’s Gwendy’s Button Box. It took me half an hour to find it up in the front laying flat on a “specials” table of some sort. I spent 5 or 10 minutes alone looking through King’s books (once I finally found THOSE) just trying to make sure I wasn’t overlooking it. I thought for sure it would be there, facing out if not on an end cap. They fooled me!

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