Monday, October 29, 2007

Books-A-Million

So I was running some errands last night, and popped into the local Books-A-Million store. I tend not to frequent the store because this particular outlet has notoriously bad organization skills. Not only are books regularly misplaced, by I often find whole sections that look like somebody just threw the books on the shelves in whatever haphazard fashion seemed to be quickest at the time. Consequently, books are ALWAYS out of order and just because you don't see something on the shelf where it's supposed to be doesn't mean it's not in the store. Not surprisingly, the staff are generally little help in these cases since they can only direct you to where any given book SHOULD be.

But I was browsing the manga section, surprised that it was in reasonable order and, at the end of the manga section before the marvel and DC graphic novels are the actual comic books. They were mostly current, maybe about a month behind what you can get in your LCS, but one book stood out: Four #30. If you don't recall, it was the last issue of marvel's attempt at pushing the Fantastic Four into their "Marvel Knights" line. (Courtesy of Bill Jemas.) Personally, I thought the series was terrible from the get-go and I was genuinely surprised to see it last that long.

Here's the thing, though: the last issue came out in May 2006, nearly a year and a half ago! That means that whoever's been restocking the comic racks is only pulling down issues as the new ones come out. And NO ONE has given the issue enough of a look to realize that it's the only periodical on that rack that has not had a new issue come out. Now, if it were buried towards the back, I might understand, but this was sitting front and center with the whole cover in plain view. Several copies were left and, I suspect, will continue to sit there for some time.

Another thing I noticed was that the store has a hidden, second section for graphic novels! Nestled between the science fiction and mystery racks was a whole shelving unit with comic related material on it. Not necessarily comics that would make sense there either, but an eclectic mix of manga, independent, and mainstream titles. They had Blankets next to Bleach next to Civil War: Front Line. Seriously -- no exaggeration! As near as I could tell, there was no real rhyme or reason to why these books were singled out, and not kept with the other comics/manga section, but it was clearly not accidental as they had a shelf sign labeling the section as "Graphic Novels."

In fact, the only comics that I thought would've made sense there -- namely, well-known science fiction properties like Star Wars -- were absent. One had to walk to literally the other side of the story to find those. That I found this stack at all was entirely by chance, as I happened to wander down the aisle quite aimlessly.

Another thing I found curious was that this section had a still-shrink-wrapped copy of Lost Girls. That it was with the other comics wasn't so surprising, but I was struck that they carried a copy at all! The store has tendency to cater to a more religious crowd, and even has an entire section devoted to Bibles. I suppose I shouldn't be overly surprised, as the store also carries Playboy and Penthouse but it very much seemed like a book that they would actively choose not to stock. I can see people coming in and requesting Playboy, but I can't imagine there's that much of a drive for people to track down Lost Girls. I certainly have no evidence to back this up, but I suspect anyone with any interest in it whatsoever has either already picked it up, or has half a dozen other venues to purchasing before they'd think to wander into their local Books-A-Million.

I also noted that they had three copies of the new Don Martin collection. In a similar vein, I'd be surprised to see that many people walk in to a local Books-A-Million, in search of that volume.

This particular store is only a year or two old, but it just seems to be run extraordinarily poorly. I have to wonder how long this brick-and-mortar store will last, because it's almost certainly being propped up financially by the larger chain and/or online sales.

5 comments:

thekamisama said...

I have not been to one BAM that seems to have rhyme or reason to its comic, manga or graphic novel section. I think it is a issue with the chain. They just carry them "because they sell" and really do not bother to maintain them much beyond that.
One person I knew who used to frequent the store regularly stopped shopping there once the Sci-Fi and Fantasy book sections took on a similar aura of chaos. Turns out they fired the resident "geek" who kept them straight and no one else could be arsed to do it.

Bully said...

Only slightly in BAM's defense on the Four #30: comics are treated as periodicals and are stocked and maintained not by the bookstore but but the local magazine distributor, who comes into the store to pull old copies of a magazine when the new ones are available. Obviously it's a dumb-ass continuing oversight, but it makes logical sense within their narrow world: since there hasn't been a new issue of Four, they don't pull it. (Notice, for instance, that lots of B&Ns and Borders still have the final issues of Business 2.0 and FHM on the shelves months after those magazines went out of business.)

That's still no excuse for the section being like that--but various chain stores run a wide range of employees who care and those who don't about those sections. Get a good store and it's taken care of even if it's not technically bookstore territory. A mediocre store will just let things stay they way they are and run themselves into the ground. As Kamisura says, if notbody is caretaking the sections, it goes to heck.

Anonymous said...

Former BAM employee here. The second comics section you found was what they call Graphic Novels - Mature. The merch guidelines call for it to be located adjacent to the erotica section, and most of the comics are placed there due to sexual content, though some get placed there due to violence.

As for the main comics section, I know they just did a big recategorization project that, if I remember it correctly, called for certain popular titles to be shelved at the front of the section, out of alphabetical order vis a vis the rest of the titles. That is, they wanted Bleach and Death Note and Fruits Basket and Naturo and some others first, then skip back to Absolute Boyfriend and so on. We chose to disregard that part of the directive, on account of it being deeply stupid.

Anonymous said...

@Bully: Actually, BAM handles their magazines in house. Each store is supposed to have a "magazine specialist" whose job it is to put out the new mags when they arrive in the store and pull the older titles for return. A team from the distributor might come to the store once every other year or so, in advance of a planned visit from the company big wigs, but otherwise it's all left up to the store to manage their own magazine inventory.

Zeke said...

I always got interesting books at Books-a-Million...