Author Fonda Lee took to Twitter recently, lamenting the lack of shelf space in her local Barnes and Nobel for new fantasy authors. In the post, Lee points out that J.R.R. Tolkien had “3.5 shelves worth of space” and Robert Jordan had “2.5 shelves.”
Putting aside that 2.5 shelves of space for Jordan probably adds up to a total of four books (cause man, that guy wrote some huge tomes!), I find Lee’s comments interesting. I understand her point about new authors trying to find a way to break into the publishing ranks and even her point that it was difficult to find novels that had either been recently nominated for or won genre awards.
When Barnes and Nobel opened a store that was convenient to where I shopped and did my errands, I was excited. I frequented the store regularly and enjoyed browsing the aisles to find something new that may not have necessarily been on my radar at the time. These days, it’s been months since I darkened the door of that local Barnes and Nobel. And a large part of it ties into Lee’s lament.
In the past five years, I’ve noticed that more of the floor space of Barnes and Nobel has been given over to items that may or may not necessarily be related to the reading experience. Everything from toys and games to collectible figures to things associated with reading. I’ve also noticed that the amount of room for actual books has decreased dramatically. At first, it was a shrinking of the shelf-space for new releases, then slowly the aisles for each genre seemed to become smaller. What was first two and a half aisles for sci-fi and fantasy has become one and a half. Same thing for mystery novels. And while we get a bit of space given over to new releases, I find that what whoever deems a book worthy of such a spotlight has very different tastes than I do.
Insert rant about how much shelf space in the SF/F aisle paranormal romance gets these days here.
I understand what Lee is saying about the limited shelf space being given to older books by authors who may or may not necessarily be still around. And while I share her concerns, I feel certain if we asked the buyers at Barnes and Nobel why this was, it would go back to the old adage that things like Tolkien and Jordan move product.
Look, I’m all for the classics getting shelf space. Certainly, they’ve a proven track record and that fact that they keep finding Tolkien to publish (I expect his grocery lists to be published at some point) means he and other authors are always going to take up some shelf space. I just wish that the experience of going to Barnes and Nobel was closer to what it was when my local store first opened and not what it is today. I feel like the stores have become more about book adjacent items and less about the books themselves.
And that’s a shame.