When people come into the bookshop and ask for a specific book the ideal is that we will have that title in stock and be able to sell it to them there and then. If the book is not in stock we can order it and get it in a couple of days. (Unless the book is out of print, or the publisher is out of stock, or the book does not have a UK distributor.) Customers sometimes act incredulously if we don’t have the book they want. They are shocked that such a large bookshop does not have a copy of “Whatever The Book Is” and wonder why not. We can’t stock every book in print. Even though we have five floors we do not have enough room. But, we will order it. We will obtain it for you if it’s at all possible. We are happy to do that. We want you to have that book. We love books. We are booksellers.
A guy asked me what he had to do to get his book on our shelves. I asked him who his publisher was and he said “Me.” We could not stock all the self published books, could we? Where would we put them? Who would buy them?
I still find it astonishing that so many authors think the secret of success is getting their book on to a shelf in a book shop. They imagine then it’s just a matter of customers seeing their book and ta-dah, they will buy it. I’ve seen books, good books, books I have read and enjoyed, sit on the shelf for years. I’ve seen them promoted and discounted and still not selling. (And yes, there are others, the ones that sell and keep on selling with no promotion or fanfare, because they have that indescribable something that works, but I’m not talking about them today.)
Here’s the thing – bookshops are shops. They exist to sell books. They are a business, so they need to sell books to keep their business going. It seems to me that some people ignore that fact and view bookshops as a public service. A bookshop is not a library, and it does not HAVE to sell any book it does not choose to, does it? Perhaps the bookshop did stock that book at one time and it took months to sell. Perhaps we just sold out of it? Perhaps it’s an interesting new title that we will pass details of to the buyer.
To those that say there should be more books about *insert person’s pet thing*, I want to ask why? Because you say so? Because you happen to write books like that? Because you like them? I happen to really like Tivall vegetarian schnitzels. When I lived in London it was easy to find them, but here in West Sussex it’s not. A large branch of Waitrose sold them for a while, but they stopped. I did enquire in store and I filled in an online stock request, but they never got them back in. I assume it was a decision based on sales. It would not occur to me to insist that they should stock it simply to please me and any other customer that might share my taste. Recently my local Holland and Barrett has stocked them. They are way more expensive than they were at the supermarket, but it’s my choice whether or not I buy them.
Similarly, if you go to the bookshop and they don’t have the book you want, you have choices, you can order it from them, or online, or shop elsewhere, so where is the Big Bad?
What if there is no conspiracy?
(Of course, these are my personal musings and are in no way meant to represent any official view from the company I work for.)