I had the proud parental experience yesterday of watching my older son turn a considerable pile of his savings — originally intended for a Wii — into a stack of new books so heavy he needed help getting them up the stairs when we got home.
Because we were on a mission to Get Those Books Now (before he changed his mind, I suppose), we went to the chain bookseller nearest our house instead of to our beloved local independent. Once in the children’s department, I couldn’t help but sniff out the nonfiction section to see if they had my book.
They didn’t. But I’m in good company — they didn’t have much else, either. As is usually the case, be it in Borders or Barnes & Noble, locating the children’s nonfiction section was an experience in effort and then disappointment.
When I finally found that section (in the backmost corner of the department, as far as possible from the most-touted current titles), I wondered why I had bothered. And I was reminded of these head-scratchers: Given how prominently adult nonfiction is displayed at the front of the store, why is nonfiction for young readers so hidden, as if it’s a source of shame? Where, exactly, are adult readers supposed to develop their love for nonfiction? And why is it apparently assumed that this love will develop some time well after those readers have outgrown books from the children’s department?
Actually, I think I know the answer. It’s because most children’s books aren’t bought by the intended readers themselves, but rather by adults — adults whose own experiences reading nonfiction as children way back when may have been less than thrilling, and who aren’t aware of just how good nonfiction for young readers has gotten, and who simply never think of buying a nonfiction book as a gift for a child or young adult.
Of course, the books that are big sellers don’t just spontaneously occur to those children’s-book-buying adult customers. Those books get bought because someone physically puts them in front of shoppers through in-store displays.
And this is why I felt a squinge of excitement and possibility when I read this piece in PW about Borders’ plans to renovate their children’s departments:
Borders Group is counting on books for kids and kitchens to provide some growth in a tough economic environment. … According to [CEO Ron ] Marshall, Borders will turn much of its dying music and movies section space into bigger children’s book areas. …
Expanded children’s book sections will be rolled out to every Borders store within 90 days, Anne Kubek, Borders executive vice president of merchandising and marketing, said after the shareholders meeting. “It’s a tremendous growth business for us.”
Citing a competitive marketplace, Borders declined to say how many new children’s and teen titles or what square footage it will add, but one refitted Ann Arbor store now has a 900-square foot teen department with signs saying “What your friends are reading” near a display of Twilight books, games, jewelry and T-shirts. Its children’s section was divided into three sections: baby and picture books, independent readers, and toys and games. Parenting and teacher books were nearby.
Borders plans to carry education games and toys and teaching devices as well as books, and will relocate young adults and teen books away from the baby and youth books, Kubek said. Teen books often will be positioned close to the manga and science fiction titles, since “teens cross-shop those.”
I’m reading into this what I want to read into this; the article says nothing about expanding the nonfiction selection. But if Borders is serious about moving away from what hasn’t worked, why not go with something they haven’t tried?