More death certificates

I used to work at a Borders, and the wrath I experienced at that time–at the blithering corporate idiocy that was slowly running their company into the ground–is the stuff of legends. None of the mind-numbingly stupid things I had to do (alphabetizing dictionaries, switching all of the inventory on one bookshelf to another three times in two days) compared to the soul-killing hours I spent in charge of the magazines.

Thus begins a snarky and pretty intelligent post about why magazine sales are suffering and how its the corporate Borders-type mentality that’s driving them down.

Read here.

5 Comments

  • Tiffany says:

    Interesting, but incomplete. I work at Barnes and Noble. We mostly put our magazines in the same section too, but that section is sub-categorized much like the books- quilting magazines are next to other quilting magazines, not the sci-fi mags or the literary journals (of which we admittedly have few). We display a few magazines in relevant sections as well- maybe I’ll suggest a few more based off this article. I don’t think having a section for magazines has been the death knell of the medium, although the lack of proper display space, the admitted tendency to overflow what might actually sell, and the lack of control individual stores have on what magazines they can carry (we can’t even order by customer request) can’t be helping the industry.

  • Marcus says:

    Definitely incomplete, if for no other reason than because it’s just one person’s viewpoint.

    But I think the most important thing I got from it is the idea that when people go into a bookstore, they’re looking at things from a subject matter perspective. I can’t remember anyone ever saying, Hey, let’s go into Bookstore X and look at the magazines. And, as the blogger pointed out, if you’re wandering from one section to another, you’re probably not going into the Magazine section. So it’s just a matter of visibility, mostly. That’s the big thing to me. (And I like what one commenter said about laying out the store on a grid, with one axis being subject matter and the other axis being medium. I think it’s a funny idea, but terrible and completely impractical for about 278 reasons, one of which is that the average shopper probably isn’t smart enough to understand how the layout would work.)

    But then there’s the store’s perspective, part of which is that it would be a real hassle to collect the out of date titles every month if they’re scattered all over the store. If they’re all in one magazine section, you can just go through and take out the month-olds and be done with it, rather than wandering over the entire sales floor.

    Still, I’m fairly sure that there are times I would have bought magazines if I’d seen them side-by-side with the other topical matter.

    Bigger question: does anyone know of a bookstore that does shelve magazines by subject rather than by medium?

    Also, under such a system, where would you put literary journals if they’re multi-genre?

    And all of this reminds me of the people I know who work at Starbucks. Typical example of how the ordering works: stores dont’ control their merchandise orders, at least for most of the seasonal stuff. A while back they came out with these insulated iced-beverage cups, and sold out in a couple of days. It was months before they got more, and then those sold in a couple of days. Then another couple of months, and they were gone in a couple of days. Are you telling me there’s nobody at corporate headquarters who notices that they have a great-selling product and could decide to manufacture, you know, more of them? And then there’s all the promotional stuff that every single employee in the store knows is never going to sell, but they’ll receive thirty or forty of them in the merchandise shipment. It’s really pretty amazing. And yeah, maybe it’s just those stores at which I know people where those items don’t sell, but that’s pretty good reason to allow stores to control what product they’re carrying. Anyway.

    (Lots of reasons why I never want to manage a bookstore.)

  • Tiffany says:

    Actually I had a friend who used to say near exactly, “Let’s go to Barnes and Noble and look at magazines.” Many customers head straight for the magazine section. And wandering between sections often leads to magazines. The nature of how they are displayed and the draw of visual imagery make them a natural magnet for casual browsers not quite in the mindset to dive into a book.
    Where to shelve the magazines would be a question- would you put Elle and Cosmo and Redbook in the beauty and grooming section? That might actually pump book sales for that section. Where would TV guide and Star, US, and Life and Style go? I’d be insulted as a media studies buff to have them in the film and television section even if that section is totally lame now anyway. I’d say Lit journals in the Fiction anthologies section if they are mixed genre. I think it could be fun to have my own bookstore, but of course, that would be owning not just managing a conglomerate owned front.

  • Anna says:

    When I worked for Waldenbooks, it always seemed that the reason we didn’t sell many magazines was because people would sit on the floor in front of the racks, read the magazines, then put them back. If other customers did want to buy a magazine, it was difficult for them to find the one they wanted because the rack was blocked by these other browsers who had no intention of buying anything. Maybe shelving them with books of the same category would alleviate that a bit, but then the people who like to thumb through various magazines might get upset that they had to move to different locations in the store. I do think that shelving Lit journals closer to the “Fiction and Literature” section of the store would make sense.

    • Marcus says:

      Very good point, especially since it seems magazine are becoming increasingly stuffed with advertising instead of content. I’ve subscribed to a half-dozen non-literary magazines for years, and for example the Popular Mechanics I got in the mail today is approximately half advertising. There’s really not all that much content. It’s completely feasible that I could go through the table of contents, pick out the two or three articles I want to read, then sit down for fifteen minutes and read them and essentially be done with the magazine. You can’t do that with a book.

      Which brings up a strange thought–what if a book cover (say, for short stories) was designed like a magazine cover? There’d be seven or eight different little blurbs on the front cover for the various stories. (For the record I think this is a silly idea, but I’d absolutely pick up a literary journal with a cover like this, just to see it and wonder what it’s doing. Why hasn’t Electric Literature done this yet?)

      And the tables of contents of magazine usually have the article titles followed by a line or two describing them, so you can decide if you want to read that article. You don’t have to read the magazine straight through. Do any literary magazines do this with their tables of contents? And why not? Would it be such a bad thing?

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