Monday, March 01, 2010

Break the chains

A friend and I visited a local Barnes & Noble last night looking for the Library of America volumes of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. Unavailable, my friend was told, because Barnes & Noble carries no hardcover classics other than those it publishes itself.

Didn't Congress step in years ago when American movie studios monopolized production, distribution and exhibition of movies? How is the refusal by one of the country's two major chains to carry a respected line of books any different?

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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44 Comments:

Blogger R. T. said...

Check out this link:
http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Raymond-Chandler/Raymond-Chandler/e/9781883011079/?itm=1&USRI=library+of+america+raymond+chandler

I suspect the clerk at the local store you visited has not checked the B&N website; he or she might have to come up with a different "store policy" statement.

March 01, 2010  
Blogger Brian Lindenmuth said...

The trick would be to use their check store availability function. My zip code and surrounding ares doesn't have the Chandler vol.

I suspect that this isn't right though, not coming from B&N. Borders maybe.

March 01, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Oh, my friend was told that the books could be ordered; the problem was the policy of not carrying the books in house. I have nothing against the B&N Classics. I've bought a few of them. But to bar other classics from the shelves is certainly a disservice to readers and one I suspect would be less of a problem if there were more competition in bookselling and if B&N did not thus control both production and distribution.

March 01, 2010  
Blogger R. T. said...

Perhaps B&N is intimidated by the superb quality of the LOA editions (which are always a treasure to book lovers); after all, as I recall, the quality of the B&N reprints leaves something to be desired. So, apparently, what you have is a policy that involves fear of competition.

March 01, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Brian, we were just browsing a store that happened to be in the neighborhood, and I'm not even sure I'd have bought the books had I found them. But I didn't see any Library of America volumes, which would be a shame because those are fine editions.

I know you tend to be more positive toward the chain bookstores that some people are, and you also probably know a lot more than I do about book selling and distribution. Still, I have to believe that if Borders and B&N did not so dominate the market, a large B&N such as the one I visited would not be able to get away with keeping a given imprint off the shelves in order to push its own brand.

I'll have to check to see if the local Borders stocks the titles.

March 01, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

RT, you could be right, but I'm not sure how much competition there would be between the two lines. The two B&N Classics I have bought recently are Euclid's Geometry and Darwin's Descent of Man. Among the B&N Classics on display in the local store, Mark Twain and Edith Wharton are the only authors I can think of who are also available in B&N Editions.

My friend was told that the store had no "harcover classics" on the shelves other than its own, which might indicate an anti-competitive (and anti-reader) policy in effect against publishers other than the Library of America.

March 01, 2010  
Blogger pattinase (abbott) said...

Nothing is in our local stores beyond what will be sold in the next 24 hours and coffee and cards and a million toys. Why toys?

March 01, 2010  
Blogger solea said...

Peter, why are you shopping at B&No anyhow? I had this notion that you would support independent bookstores!
My favorite local bookstore has distinct shelves for all the classic hard boiled writers.

March 01, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Patti, I once remarked that one of my local chain stores sold a wide array of book-related products. I don't know the economics of the book trade. Maybe all the non-book products are analogous to the music and scoreboard races and swimming pools and restaurants at major-league baseball parks: a deliberate effort to lure buyers whose primary interest is something other than the core product. That's well and good -- as long as it does not affect those of us who like books and baseball.

March 01, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Solea, my friend and I stopped in at the store to browse while we waited for a table at a nearby restaurant. She had mentioned a story in one of the Chandler volumes that was of considerable historical interest, and I wanted to take a look. This was less a shopping expedition, in other words, than a browse that turned into a rant.

March 01, 2010  
Blogger solea said...

OK nice save...are you going to reveal which story and what considerable interest?

March 01, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I don't remember the story. It was apparently an early version of one of the novels with a considerably harder edge than the eventual finished version. The friend who had told me this was the friend with whom I was browsing, and I'd have explored further had we found a copy of the book.

March 01, 2010  
Blogger solea said...

The short stories from "The Killer in the Rain" collection is prolly what your friend is thinking of, as it has several short stories that were later expanded/borrowed from. It's not easy to find that collection.

March 01, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I may have a copy of that lying around. I shall also check with the friend to verify the title of the story or fragment that later became a novel.

March 01, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

Not sure that I would really be an unbiased voice about the chains, but I will say that even the indies are keeping afloat with non book merchandise, for the simple reason that the markup is better. Not sure when this became a necessity, but it was probably when the chains started deep discounting bestsellers forcing the indies to follow suit, thereby meaning that no one makes any money on the books that actually sell. Genius.

On a cheerier note, did you all know that Library of America sends out a free story of the week? You can find the link here.

March 02, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Blogger appears to be eating comments: sending me e-mail; notification that a comment has arrived, registering the comment in my comment counter, but not publishing either the comment or notification that the commenter has deleted it. So I'll reprint the comment here without attribution, then let the commenter step forward if she wishes either to acknowledge or delete what she had to say:

"Not sure that I would really be an unbiased voice about the chains, but I will say that even the indies are keeping afloat with non book merchandise, for the simple reason that the markup is better. Not sure when this became a necessity, but it was probably when the chains started deep discounting bestsellers forcing the indies to follow suit, thereby meaning that no one makes any money on the books that actually sell. Genius.

"On a cheerier note, did you all know that Library of America sends out a free story of the week? You can find the link here."

My comment about book-related products was a mere observation, wry or snide depending on one's perspective, and not a criticism. Hell, I buy most of my notebooks in bookstores. And many thanks for that link.

March 02, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Without going into boring details, Blogger has gone completely haywire, so I'm going to shut down for a while. I'll be back later, I hope.

March 02, 2010  
Blogger Loren Eaton said...

Others have implied this, but I say forget Congress and hit 'em where it hurts -- the bottom line. Amazon.com or a local bookstore, while at opposite ends of the commerce spectrum, would be more than happy to get said volume for you!

March 02, 2010  
Blogger Dana King said...

I'm routinely disappointed at how little of interest my local Borders or B&N have. I'd look to a local indie, but we don't have one less than an hour and a half away.

As for the movie theater anti-trust thing, that's become diluted to the point of ineffectiveness. Take a look at television. Cable providers own networks who own producers of shows. They're allowing organizations to control entire verticals, much like the Japanese companies do with parts manufacturers for cars.

March 02, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Loren, another reason to forget Congress is that the situation under discussion here is tricky. It applies only to a small segment of books, and B&N isn't refusing to sell the Library of America, it's making if difficult for readers to obtain them (customerc can still order them from B&N Web sites). So your solution sounds right. Customers interested in the Library of America's Hammett and Chandler volumes can march down to the local independent bookstores and buy or order them -- after first visiting their local Barnes & Noble to ask if the books are on the shelf and, when told "We can order them for you," answering, "No, thanks."

March 02, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dana, I am far more disappointed not to find what I am looking for at a big chain store than at an independent because the big chain store are big. They have the space to accommodate what the independents lack the room for, but that's not what they're interested in doing.

Comcast is a local company, so I know about cable providers taking control.

March 02, 2010  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

I'm a little reluctant to say this in case it leads to an abuse of the process, however...

Everytime I have asked LOA for a book they have sent it to me for free. Thats how I got Crime Writing of the 50's, Chandler, Hammett, Philip K Dick etc.

In return I have reviewed the book, hopefully turning more people on to these great writers.

March 02, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I noticed on their Web site that the Library of America offers generous shipping terms. If a store is going to comport itself the way Barnes and Noble appears to do in this matter, then perhaps I can stop complaining, take action, bypass B&N, and order directly from the publisher.

March 02, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

That's pretty cool, Adrian. I doubt that there would be much abuse through this forum, as pretty much all the people I've seen post here would be good spreaders of the literary word. I think there is a foundational presence behind LOA so it's not quite the commercial enterprise that other publishing ventures are.

That said, we do sell them. And yes, right in the store and everything. Though I wouldn't guarantee that everything is in the store at any given moment.

Personally, I'll probably have enough to do just keeping up with stories on line.

March 02, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, one perhaps pernicious effect of chain stores is that they create an unrealistic expectation that a store will stock every book that anyone cound conceivably want. That chain stores consistently fall short is just one more of their sins, not necessarily related to B&N's anticompetitive, antireader conduct in re LoA.

March 02, 2010  
Anonymous Linda said...

I used to spend Alot of $$ @ B&N but now I do not buy books there or even @ .com because I don't like their policies, prices, shipping charges, that they said the Nook weighed less than it did; I use my library more, buy used, even the Book Depository in the U.K.--no shipping, discounted, and often available there before the U .S. -- especially translations. I still like to browse around B&N once in a while, check out the magazines, have coffee, use the WiFi, but I rarely purchase anything anymore. Although to be fair, I once emailed Mary Ellen Keating @B&N because they would not accept a coupon on my Blackberry--they said they needed it printed out--and she sent me a $50. gift card with an apology; and changed the store policy. I mean, really-- it's like green eggs and ham: I can buy books anywhere! Once they figure that out, and in this economy, B&N will probably have to cater to their core customers, who I assume are "serious" readers.

March 03, 2010  
Anonymous John H said...

Linda, I've had very good luck with the Book Depository. Free shipping via royal mail here to the states and cheap prices to boot. I think they do business from a crown protectorate so maybe they have some tax advantages or something.

I think of B&N as a Best Buy for books. They have tons of stuff but not exactly what I often want.

March 03, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Linda, your last sentence struck a chord. What's a serious reader? Someone who reads a lot and whose reading material varies. These are not the readers to whom the chains cater. Over the course of this discussion, I've begun to wonder what B&N, if this Library of America affair is typical, will do once it drives serious readers away.

March 03, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

John, I've mentioned that Australian readers seem often to order from the Book Depository -- fitting, since I can think of two Australian titles that I probably ought to order.

March 03, 2010  
Anonymous Linda said...

John, also re: the Book Depository--isn't that map neat? It's fun to see what people from all over the world are reading--like Twitter for books! Peter, I agree--serious readers will go elsewhere; and mass market readers will get books at Wal Mart--I do: cheaper, convenient.

March 03, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

And the chains will move further and further away from the basic job of selling books, and they will stave off bankruptcy by converting themselves into cafes before eliminating books altogether. They may retain book covers and author paintings as a decorative motif, though.

March 03, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

Peter, I believe this last will, in some form, be pretty much the case.

March 03, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Just think: the death of bookstores may become so obvious a story that mainstream media may one day discover it.

March 03, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

On the subject of "mainstream" media, do you remember a few years ago the crowing stories that fears of the death of "brick and mortar stores" (and what a stupid expression that was) was exaggerated? One doesn't here so much of that crowing now.

March 03, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

Mainstream media may well discover it, but it will probably be mentioned in an aside in a restaurant review. As in, "Once the home of a legendary bookstore, this charming cafe..."

I worked in a brick and mortar bookstore. It fell down in an earthquake. Not so hot on brick and mortar anymore.

March 03, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Half the folks who talked about brick-and-mortar stores probably never knew what mortar was. But hell, I'd as willingly shop at an adobe store, an A-frame store, a store fronted by ashlar blocks as long as it had good stock and a knowledgeable staff.

March 04, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

I'm not sure what mortar actually is either. All I know is that at a certain point in its aging and given the right shocks, it crumbles.

March 04, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I know what mortzr is only in relation to what surrounds it: bricks.

Hmm, do we know everything only in relation to that which surrounds it?

March 04, 2010  
Anonymous John H said...

Linda the map is really fun.

As for a serious reader I don't know how to answer that. I read a lot of books and go to bookstores to find a particular book or a particular author.

But am I a serious reader? Depends but probably not. I only finish something if it keeps my interest. I also walk out of movies and plays if I loose interest.

I'm not very interested in the literary value of what I read. I don't care care if it's placed in South Africa or Norway or Michigan. If it keeps me turning the pages I'm happy.

I do enjoy this and other blogs to find out what I perhaps should have gotten out of something. I don't worry about it but it's fun to see what other people think.

March 04, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

John, that sounds pretty serious to me. And I share your impatience as a reader.

March 04, 2010  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

RE "Serious reader" status:

When somebody asks me what kind of books I like, if I'm feeling flippant I'll say "If it's got two covers and pages in between, I'll start it."

Captcha: pholly, as in "perhaps my reading predilections as described above are pholly."

March 04, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

RE "Serious reader" status:

When somebody asks me what kind of books I like, if I'm feeling flippant I'll say "If it's got two covers and pages in between, I'll start it."


I like to think that anyone who whiles away time discussing books, preferably here but anywhere will do, is a serious reader.

March 04, 2010  
Anonymous Linda said...

One more chain comment: a friend in Books-a-Million, perusing the gardening books section, laughs aloud upon seeing Eats Shoots and Leaves shelved, according to one employee, " next to the other books about trees" .

March 06, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That's another thing about the chains. Too many of the staff might as well be selling fast food as books for all they know and care about what they're selling. I expect it won't be long before cash-register clerks will be asking customers "Would you like a Dan Brown today?"

Already the "Would you like a XXXX today?" locution has leached from McDonald's to Starbucks. I always wanted to answer, "No, I'd like a hot apple pie tomorrow. Today I'll just have what I ordered."

March 06, 2010  

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