January 17, 2005
Barnes & Noble cooking the books? Part II
I posted a while back about the glaringly obvious liberal bias in my local Barnes & Noble’s book displays. I wondered whether the bias was dictated by market forces, or by a political slant coming down from local or national management.
"AkRonin," an Alaskan, responded to my post, saying that there was evident bias even in the B&Ns in Alaska, a red state. Anecdotal evidence, to be sure, but it suggests a political, not commercial, motive. Now I have a bit more information to add to the mix.
First, a friend saved this shocking, yet somehow expected pre-election conversation (.pdf file) from a Borders employee bulletin board. (The site deleted the thread when it started receiving unwanted blog-scrutiny.) Brief sample:
You guys don't actually HAVE to sell [Unfit for Command]! Just "carelessly" hide the boxes, "accidentally" drop them off pallets, "forget" to stock the ones you have, and then suggest a nice Al Franken or Micheal [sic] Moore book as a substitute....
I don't care if these Neandertals in fancy suits get mad at me... Anything you can do to make them feel unwelcome is only fair... And they would censor your speech, your books, your music in a heartbeat, so give them a taste of it!
Borders, of course, is not Barnes, but it’s reasonable to think the same kinds of things might go on, at least at the employee level.
Second, for some time I’ve been noticing the books displayed at the Brooklyn Costco, about 35 blocks from the Barnes & Noble. Costco is famous for its fiercely strategic buying and inventory control. They only keep about 50 or so current titles in stock at any given time, and book inventory flies out of that store; you know they keep a sharp eye on every unit moved. I’ve watched their book selections change over countless visits during the last few years, and their selection seems scrupulously balanced politically. For every “Deliver Us From Evil,” there’s a “Bushwhacked.” For every Al Franken book, there’s an Ann Coulter book.
Could Costco be stocking conservative books just for appearances, even though they don’t sell? It doesn’t seem likely. I think conservative books are selling, at least as well as liberal books, and that’s why the new ones keep getting stocked.
Finally, I’ve been using Amazon for about 4 years now, and I’ve never noticed much of a bias. Sometimes they get some kind of bug up their butt about promoting a certain book, and often these are liberal. (Lately it’s been Jon Stewart’s “America.” I assume they have some sort of sweetheart deal from the publisher in these cases.) I haven’t made a study of it, but it appears that, over time, conservative books have been just as common as liberal books on Amazon’s top-seller lists.
So what other explanation could there be for the Barnes & Noble stock and display policies other than political bias? I hate to believe such a thing of a bookstore, but it’s hard to think of any other motives on their part.
November 26, 2004
Barnes and Noble cooking the books?
Power Line, of course, beats me to the punch on this news flash: Wow, bookstores sure are different since the election!
I had the exact same experience described in the above link; the difference in Brooklyn was startling and radical. For years, literally years, the encroachment of anti-Bush books had been progressing. Eventually, I stopped going to bookstores altogether. I used to love browsing the neighborhood Barnes & Noble, but I had to give it up; it started to feel like crawling through no-man's land, blasted from all sides. Instead, I gave a couple thousand dollars' worth of business to Amazon.
It's hard to describe the hostile, oppressive feeling of entering a bookstore where all the stacks, displays, and promotions blare at you: Bush lied! — America sucks! — 'Terrorist' attack? We deserved it! — You're a bigot unless you believe as we do! — The election was stolen! — Where are the wings? — Bush won't rest until everyone is dead and the earth is a barren wasteland!, etc. But try finding, say, a Hugh Hewitt book, and you'll need spelunking equipment and a headlamp to chip through the layers of "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them" and "Dude, Where's My Country?"
All along, I've had a lot of questions about this phenomenon.
- Are these displays dictated from headquarters or are they left to the discretion of the local managers?
- Is the political weighting of the displays dictated by local factors — say, local voting patterns? (That's the charitable interpretation.) Or is it dictated by someone's political leanings, either at the local or national level?
The easy way to get an honest answer to this question would be to see what's on display in red cities in red states. I'd like to believe that the jamming of liberal books down customers' throats is purely a matter of demographics; after all, you wouldn't have a huge display of Yankees books in Boston, would you?
But I have that little muttering, paranoid voice in my head that tells me there may be more than strictly commercial considerations here. Anyone out there know the real score?
Anyway, it's all different now. The anti-Bush books have vanished, and not a trace of the looming displays remains. I can shop in a real-live bookstore again without feeling I'm on enemy turf. And I can walk back home swinging my bag of new books jauntily to the melodious sound of the forlorn flapping of "We The People SAY NO To The Bush Agenda" rainbow banners against the facades of million-dollar houses.
What you mean "we," kemo sabe?