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Do Booksellers Sell Too Many Non-book Items?

colored pencils

By Edward Nawotka

Today’s lead story looks at moves to stifle Parisian bouquinistes from selling non-book items.

Walk into any bookstore and you’re likely to find a lot more on sale than just books? Stuffed animals, e-readers, bookends, notebooks, toys, reading glasses, and all other manner of merchandise crowd the shelves. Sometimes, it’s as much or more than half of what’s on sale. There are a variety of reasons why this is so, not the least of which is the fact that profit on non-book items can be significantly higher than on books. But there are also risks, notably the fact that non-book items — unlike books — are non-returnable and it takes a sharp buyer to know what will sell and what they might get stuck with to gather dust until it’s shuttled out of the store at a deep discount.

What this trend has led to are numerous stores that look like more stores that sell books, rather than actual bookstores. In your opinion, at what point does a bookstore risk becoming a mere store that sells books? Do you think that bookstores in general sell too many non-book related items? Do you think that in the long-term it changes how people think of bookstores, thus giving them de-facto permission to buy books “guilt free” wherever they can find them? After all, if Target sells the same books and Barnes & Noble and Barnes & Noble sells several of the same things Target does — so what’s the difference in the long term?

Let us know what you think in the comments.

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7 Comments

  1. Erin
    Posted October 19, 2010 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    Yes, they do. I went to Borders and had to search for the books! I understand diversifying and I appreciate being able to buy candy when I buy a book, but I think going too far off the “book” path seems strange to me. As someone in publihing, it says to me that books are not a priority.

  2. Posted October 19, 2010 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    Disclaimer, I sell bookmarks to indie bookstores, but I do think non-book items, if they truly have a connection to the world of reading, really personalize a bookstore and give it warmth and personality.
    Many stores carry the same inventory of books, but sidelines give the buyers something else to look at and hopefully include with their purchase at checkout.

  3. Kathleen
    Posted October 19, 2010 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    I think the chains need to scale down on the non-book items. How much revenue could they possible make from them? The customer is not visiting a bookstore for non-book items. Think of it as a supermarket. How many non-food items do you buy? My bet would be not many.

  4. Loves great lit
    Posted October 19, 2010 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

    Bookstores are dying, on their last legs. Unfortunately, we have to put up with this junk if we have any hope of being able to continue to peruse and browse print books in the future. It’s like newspapers–filled with more ads than articles. But we have to put up with these non-related intrusions in our reading space both in print and on line so that news gathering professionals can survive. What would we have done without the LA Times to expose the scandal in the city of Bell which the District Attorney ignored for an entire year! The best solution for book lovers and news readers is to ignore the non-related commercial intrusions as we do with TV.

  5. Irene
    Posted October 21, 2010 at 4:41 am | Permalink

    I don’t mind it when bookstores sell book-related items such as journals or pens but I grind my teeth when I see them selling DVDs, CDs and even their own brand of water (Why, Chapters?), especially if it is a big store and half of it is not even merchandise I would consider buying because it looks of cheap quality and aesthetic.
    However, we are talking of corporate chains, and bookstores that are recognizable throughout the nation, because I have never seen my local bookstore sell Godiva’s on the counter, and it is something I am accustomed to… although selling the Kobo or whatever the e-book reader is called in a bookstore is a contradictory message.

  6. Jenny
    Posted October 21, 2010 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    Bookstores need to be destinations and that means offering a wide variety of items meant to appeal to their consumers. It is a positive when booksellers choose appropriate items to broaden their inventory. Not only is it a service to their customers but it helps insure they will be there for their customers in the future. The key is selection–the same thoughtful process which makes them good booksellers. The rule is a bit different for the chains, but the one time even I couldn’t take it anymore was when a garish soda machine was positioned at the head of the checkout lines. That was an abomination.

  7. Chris
    Posted October 22, 2010 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    This has been going on for years in other retail sectors. Just think of your local grocery store – it probably has a floral department, gifts, books, magazines and the like. They have replaced their thinning margins with higher-margin items to compensate for losses in their core business. And every sector seems to be doing it. I can purchase ingredients, prepare and clean up after the meal from items at my neighborhood hardware store!

    The bottom line is how can retailers stay in business. If my local bookseller needs to sell soda to help their doors stay open, perhaps I need to bring a buddy, show them my favorite books and buy them a drink.

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