Placement at the chains

I haven’t read Leora Skolkin-Smith’s Edges, and so can’t comment on the merits of it (although the fact that the book is published by hero Grace Paley means I’ve stacked it in the smallest to-be-read pile). But I’m always disheartened to see a first novel slamming up against the chain bookstore barricade right out of the gate.

Because Paley’s publishing endeavor, Glad Day Books, is so small, both Barnes & Noble and Borders have refused to stock Edges on their shelves.

Lest you think this problem is confined to only the smallest imprints, consider this: Stephen Elliott’s oft-praised Happy Baby, jointly published in hardback last year by MacAdam/Cage and McSweeneys, was similarly dissed by the chains when it first appeared.

In conducting research last December for a commissioned article on New York City bookstores, I went to a number of indies — and to every Barnes & Noble location in Manhattan. I looked for the same books and literary publications at each store. And with only one exception, whenever I inquired at B&N about something more obscure, I encountered some variation on an Astor Place clerk’s response when I asked for a copy of a smaller journal.

She smirked. “Uh, no, we don’t have that,” she said, “We have some established journals like The Paris Review.”

Obviously bookstores can’t stock everything, especially not as the number of books published annually continues to skyrocket. But publishers and booksellers, like Hollywood, increasingly focus on the national mass market. (As if George Lucas’ soulless Revenge of the Sith weren’t stomach-turning enough on its own, the hardcover novelization is ranked #42 at Amazon.)

And the “if we don’t stock it then how could you possibly want it?” stance has crept from the chains to some indies. Maybe this is, as one independent bookseller suggested in a recent interview, mostly a function of demand. (Clearly the success of the Sith book is.)

Or maybe demand just tracks the dumbed-down options we’re offered.


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