An Open Letter to the Barnes & Noble Near My Apartment

April 17, 2010

Dear the Barnes & Noble near my Apartment ,

I’m writing to propose an audacious new shelving system that will not only revolutionize your store, but literature itself.

I propose that, instead of arranging your store by genre, you re-arrange by quality, allowing customers the ability to go directly to the good books without wasting so much time with the bad ones. No more wading through 12 shelves of mediocre Fiction—give us 3 shelves of good fiction. Maybe a single shelf of brilliant fiction. And the rest can go onto other aptly named shelves: “Mediocre fiction”, “Probably not worth your time fiction”, “How did this get published? Fiction”.

With this new system, there would only be two genres: Fiction, Non-Fiction. This would allow you to do away with silly sections, like manga and military history, where you know I’ll never go.

Your mistake is thinking that people buy a book based on subject matter. You are wrong. People buy a book because they’ve heard, or for whatever reason believe, that it’s going to be a good book—a great book, even. And People will genre-hop for a great book no problem.

I’m currently reading a book about crowd violence at European football games. I don’t have any interest in European crowd violence but heard this book was great. It is. I bought it.

Think of the implications for literature: the shame of being shelved in the “Poor” section, the “Mediocre” section, the “Don’t Waste Your Time” section. You could even have a: “James Patterson Drivel” section, and maybe it would convince the man to slow the fuck down and write something good.

Authors would no longer be motivated by publication alone, but by quality of what they were producing. And maybe the “Brilliant” shelf would begin growing. It would spill over onto a second shelf and then a third and then a fourth. People would stop reading mediocre novels —oh, the embarrassment of shopping in that section!— and begin reading novels of substance and quality. Our society would transform. Your sales would sky rocket.

Think about it.

Sincerely,

A Forward Thinking Shopper

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