Your fantasies merge with harsh realities

The movie Toy Story had a profound effect on me as a child – for a little while, I had my doubts that toys were really inanimate objects, much like the same doubts about the validity of Santa Claus and god. I was pretty sure that they didn’t exist, but who knew for sure? Thus, I made sure to take very good care of what I had, lest they awaken in the middle of the night and try to exact revenge. Almost fifteen years on, and I know that’s an amusing quirk, but I did gain some useful skills out of it: treat what you own with some semblance of respect, and they last longer. As I grew older, I found that I applied this philosophy to other things – namely books. I made sure that they were kept in prime condition, even going to great lengths to ensure that friends didn’t abuse them while in their care. Even today, I’m still wary of lending books to people.

Thus, book stripping day is particularly troublesome for me at the bookstore, and even more so now that our store is closing for good. Recently, it was announced that Borders was closing 200 of their Waldenbooks stores in a response to the economy and to focus more on the bigger box stores that they have littered around the country. Our humble store is being shut down, and part of that entails scaling down our inventory in preparation for that. The Christmas season is a logical time to do that – there’s a boost in sales, and I’m sure that a lot of inventory will go. Still, there is a lot of books that we are returning, and even more that we are destroying. Mass Market paperbacks are those that the store has us destroy, rather than mail back to a central holding area in order to resell them. Other chains carry a similar practice, and books are stripped of their front cover and thrown into recycling or the trash, with the covers mailed back to be accounted for.

This bothers me, a lot, because I absolutely hate the idea of both books being tore up, but also that a perfectly good book is otherwise tossed in the trash. As I’ve written many times before, I’m an avid reader, and I hold onto my books. I like the idea of having floor to ceiling shelves packed to capacity for that occasional time when the power shuts off and I’m left with nothing to do but read. I rarely give away or resell books, even if I’ve read them before – there’s that niggling ‘What if’ in the back of my head when it comes to re-reading things, and I figure someday, I’ll have a great collection of books to give away to a library or something like that. The corporate policy in this instance particularly grates with my own beliefs when it comes to books, especially when these books could easily be donated to those in need of a good read, or to struggling libraries somewhere.

What is even worse, in my mind, is that many of the books that are being destroyed are books that would likely be sold in the next month – I pulled a number of reputable authors off the shelf and from overstock to put into the pile, only to leave a number of other books that I don’t think that I’ve ever sold or moved. It boggles the mind that we’re reducing the number of J.R.R. Tolkien‘s books to make way for David Weber. The end result is that our Science Fiction section is being diluted with crappy books, which will likely hurt sales even more. It’s frustrating to begin converting some of these genres to tie-in stories with huge, dedicated fan bases, away from some of the more ‘original’ SF/F that is far better in terms of quality and personal interest. I can understand the reasoning behind it, but that doesn’t necessarily make it a better.

The other problem that I have with this situation is that it’s an incredibly wasteful symptom of commercial policy that demonstrates a lot of the excesses that got the country into financial trouble in the first place. Borders sent our store too many books with every shipment – something that I’m assuming falls under the notion of: “if the customer wants it, it should be there”, rather than ordering the book for them, and having them either come in again, or pay for the book there and have it mailed to their home. The end result is a store that is packed to capacity – and most likely violating several fire and safety codes – with too much merchandise that is not going to move. This makes me wonder how much of Border’s budget is devoted to the shipping of books back and forth, not to mention the amount of money that is spent on books that will ultimately never sell.

The large chain stores are really not doing well, especially in the face of major sellers such as Amazon.com, and it’s no wonder, when you look at just how inefficient their business practices are. It’s even more of a shame when it seems likely that excesses such as these have helped to contribute to the closing of stores – it’s no longer cost effective to keep them in operation, but only because they have such a high push of merchandise that is designed to boost sales.

I’m annoyed that this is happening, and in a way, glad that I’m no longer going to be employed with the company anymore with the shutdown (or earlier, if some middle-management desk jockey decides that he/she’s offended by this) because I dislike the sheer industrial and commercial grinder that these stores have become. There’s no love for the books, for stories or for really retaining customers. It’s a business in a place where there should at least be some pretense of an institution that is at least interested in what they’re selling.

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8 thoughts on “Your fantasies merge with harsh realities

  1. Hey, I know what you mean. I stared at Valerie in horror the first time she told me to strip paperbacks. I cried the first time I had to do the Sci-Fi/Fantasy section. I know *exactly* what you mean.

    • I don’t think this bothers me as much about the actual destruction of SF/F books – there was plenty of crappy ones that went too, but the sheer waste of it. It’s disgusting.

  2. while not a bookstore worker, i have heard of the stripping practice, but never thought it was on the scope that you mention – it does seem a large waste – a failure to accurately predict demand and fit inventory pipeline systems around it.

    Print-on-demand would obviously solve this issue, but possibly there could be a lot of cost savings in developing a just-in-time supply re-inventory model that tries to prevent greater inventory surpluses. at some point the cost of buying extra stock that doesn’t sell will eat into your profit, making it just as profitable as underestimating and not stocking enough to meet the full demand.. but at least you’ll have more space in the store.

    it would be sad for me to see a pile of books being stripped when they could be given to libraries or schools or such… and equally sad to see trees pulped into paper for books that are never read.

    • James, you hit the nail straight on the head: this is the result of a reasonably flawed system, one that worked, well, because it worked in times when people bought a lot of things – now, with the economy tanking, that system isn’t as effective as it could be.

      Before, I was really skeptical of the book vending machines, but I have to wonder if they’re really all that bad – I think that a store with one would have a huge advantage over a store burdened with excess invantory. Unfortunatly, they’re just too expensive, or I’d buy one and set up shop.

  3. A bookstore near me- a nice, local, happy little bookstore is getting one of the Espresso Book Machines in the next couple of weeks- this machine makes me happy because they are saving recourses, AND I get my book when I want it! I can’t wait to go try it out. Sure beats the days when *I* was required to strip covers and sob…

    • Amber – what bookstore is that, Northshire? I’ve wanted to go there and check that machine out. Unfortunately, those machines are a bit limited, because they don’t have a wide range of things to choose from. Imagine if they had the entirety of Amazon.com to print from!

  4. I just started at Borders. What happens with overstock on hardbacks? Please tell me I get to strip Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck books someday…

    • Nope, hardcovers, and most trade paperbacks are returned to the published and generally resolve at a discount once the paperback has been released.

      As much as I’d love to strip the covers and toss out Palin and Beck’s books, that’s not what happens to them, unfortunately. :-\

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