Bulk of middle grade, YA fiction must prove profitability for placement at bookstores
Authors are fighting back against a Barnes & Noble stocking policy that they say hurts the sales of debut novels by people of color.
Middle grade author Kelly Yang shared a viral video of her daughter in a Barnes & Noble bookstore reacting to how her new novel Key Player in her Front Desk series was not going to be stocked at stores with other books in the same genre.
The rest of the video shows Kelly tearfully explaining that Barnes & Noble plans to stock only the top two books per publisher per season. She said her publisher told her that Barnes & Noble had decided to not stock the fourth book in her series, and many others in the middle grade and young adult genres, until the first editions sell successfully elsewhere.
Other authors and supporters replied to Kelly’s video to share their concern over the stocking policy they perceive as discriminatory.
The middle grade and YA genres are getting flooded with books by marginalized authors representing groups that have been grossly underrepresented in the literary industry.
In many cases, these authors, like Kelly Yang, have a large social media following that includes other similarly situated authors. So word spreads. If readers are not able to access these authors’ books from a highly visible chain bookstore, then that can spell trouble for overall sales.
Barnes & Noble boasts itself as the No. 1 book retailer in the U.S. and as the “internet’s largest bookstore” on its website.
CEO James Daunt views Barnes & Noble’s three-year-old stocking policy in a different light. “By allowing proper bookselling to take place at the store level, good books will have more space and better presentation, as well as genuine support from the booksellers of each store,” Daunt told NBC News.
“When we just took what was imposed by publishers, approximately 80% of the books were ultimately returned unsold. In effect, the bookstores were filled with books customers had no interest in reading. Now we sell most of what we buy,” he added.
In an interview with Publishers Weekly, Daunt said, “What we are doing—with middle grade and adult, fiction, and nonfiction, alike—is to exercise taste and judgment. This is to buy less but, if it is done with skill, it is to sell more.”
Authors took issue with the CEO’s words with phrases such as “good books will have more space and better presentation,” “books customers had no interest in reading,” and “to exercise taste and judgment” when referencing the wide variety of kids’ books.
Those already operating on smaller marketing budgets will have to prove their books are saleable in order to attain the coveted spot on a Barnes & Noble bookshelf. As for those unsaleable books, I wrote a blog post recently about how these books circulate to dollar stores and contribute to literacy access for consumers who cannot afford new books from Barnes & Noble.
Access is key here. Many consumers don’t think twice about buying a book from Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com because these marketplaces are in their neighborhoods or online. Mindful book buyers have to go out of their way to seek books from an indie bookstore, so if these titles by authors of color solely depend on the indie bookstore market, then their sales are sure to plummet, unfortunately.
Even getting on best-sellers lists is at risk, but more importantly, potential readers—we’re talking kids here—don’t have their eyes on these books. That could be the greatest travesty of all for these authors who feel the Barnes & Noble stocking policy punches them in the gut. It’s not all about the money for these authors while Barnes & Noble, one of the only bookstore chains left, is about the money.