Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Book Report

I'm a pretty avid reader. I wouldn't say voracious, but I'm sure I read more than most people. Most of what I read anymore, though, is digital. Whether it's comics or articles or novels, I read more off a screen than I do off a dead tree. And what I do read off paper is almost always procured through an online source: Amazon, Lulu, Indy Planet, etc. All of which is to say that I don't actually make it inside bookstores very often any more. I think the last time I set foot in one was maybe early August, when Dad was in town and looking for something. The last time I actually bought something from a brick and mortar bookstore, I think, was October 2010.

Yesterday, I stopped in a local Books-A-Million, mostly to see what's changed. I've never thought of it as a good store, but it's still open and Borders isn't, so they're doing something right, I suppose.

The shelves were the usual disorganized mess that I expect from BAM. Nothing new there. But I did note that they had a lot fewer comics than they used to. Their manga section had decreased by two bookshelf sections, and a LOT of books were front-facing -- meaning they take up more shelf space. I've seen some bookstores still make their front-facing books at least two or three volumes deep, but that was not the case in what I saw here. Everything -- or very nearly everything -- was only only one book deep. So the fewer shelves devoted to manga were also less full.

The superhero section didn't seem obviously or overtly impacted, but I seem to recall the "adult" graphic novel section over by the harlequin romances seemed almost non-existent, with only a dozen or so titles. The YA section still had one copy of each Bone volume, and I came across an Amelia Rules! on the discount pile for a dollar. The art section still had several different books on how to draw manga/comics/superheroes.

Given that I'm looking just days after Christmas, it's entirely possible that the decreased number of books overall was due entirely to post-holiday shoppers. But that whole sections seemed to be given less space than before suggests there's more going on than just that. The question is: is this just a natural downward correction from over-estimation of the manga market (as the largest declines I saw were in the manga section) or is it a significant indicator of declining interest? Or, potentially, is this simply a bad decision BAM's part, forgetting that Japan suffered a massive earthquake earlier this year and would naturally have less product coming out? Given how quickly manga exploded in the bookstore market a few years ago, I'm inclined to think it's mostly a natural correction. But that's just a gut-level guess on my part. It'll be interesting to check back in 5-6 months to see what, if anything, has changed.