What's up , Wal-Mart?

Wal-Mart's book policy, that is. There are two Wal-Marts in my general vicinity, a regular store in the next town, approximately seven miles away from me; and a Super Wal-Mart right across the "circle" - the main circular road I come to first when I leave my home. The next town is overwhelmingly white, although in its defense it is smack dab in the major shopping area, right across from a large outlet mall. This store has stocked the Kimani Romances almost from the beginning, plus all the other Harlequin-Silhouette lines and the Arabesques. (This is more than I can say about the Borders across the street, which has stopped getting Arabesque and gets Kimani titles sporadically.) I'm happy to say that both my titles released earlier this year were carried there until they sold out.

The Super Wal-Mart closest to me is located in a city where Latinos rule . . . 47% of the population. The department signs are in English, with the Spanish translation appearing directly below (Cosmetics/Cosmeticos.) There is, nonetheless, a large number of black shoppers spending money at this store. This store's book section is sadly lacking, initially with older titles from St. Martins and Avon. This is nice for St. Martins and Avon authors - any writer will tell you it's a wonderful thing to have your backlist featured - but a lost opportunity for authors with newer books, even the authors whose older work was being sold. I asked the rep from Levy about the limited selection, he told me, "Books aren't going to move in this store." (He was a young white man, and I suspect he has his own views about what blacks and Latinos spend their money on . . . drugs, anyone?) I told him they would if they brought in some newer titles to mix with the older ones, and that they are probably losing customers to the nearby Kmart, who stocks both Arabesque and Kimani Romance (but no trade paperbacks). He didn't seem convinced.

This store's selection remains uneven at best. Sometimes they go for months with no Blaze titles. I have yet to see an Arabesque on their shelves. And although they stocked the Love Everlasting series by Harlequin from Day One, Kimani Romance, which launched several months earlier than the soon-to-be discontinued Everlasting, was nowhere to be found.

Things have picked up a bit, although the book selection continues to be uneven. A few Kimani Romances have drifted in, after a shopper posted a note publicly asking for them (all right, it was me.) The Kimani Romances, many of these from earlier in the line as well (they started by carrying just one title, to my amazement), certainly seem to be vanishing at a quick clip, and they are promptly replaced by additional, more recent titles. The last time I was there, they probably had six different Kimani Romances. Those older titles they started with are being replaced with more of the same as they sell . . . although they still haven't brought in newer work by Francis Ray and Brenda Jackson. (I also don't see my own If These Walls Could Talk it's probably time for another anonymous note.) But they are carrying the TRU line of books for adolescents and young teens, and also a good number of romances by Urban Books, even if the Blaze line has disappeared again. The books are clearly moving (I'm in the store enough to know that!). I guess that Levy rep has had to re-think his position.

Still, this whole thing strikes me as weird. Wal-Mart clearly did their study of demographics before building this store. Maybe the people at Levy should do the same. They'd sell a whole lot more books. Kmart is the only store in this city that sells both the Arabesque and Kimani lines every month, and Wal-Mart is the only place in the neighborhing town.

Where do you buy your books, romance or otherwise? Do you find everything you need at one store, or do you have to go to more than one place?


Donna said...

I usually buy my fiction books from Borders. Non-fiction books are usually purchased through Amazon. I rarely buy books from Wal-mart or other retailers unless they are kids books. Sometimes, I'll buy hard cover books from Sam's Club because they sell them as cheap as paperbacks.

Now that I'm more cognizant of how the industry works and authors get paid (or not), I feel funny paying for discounted books. But I supposed buying a book to support the author is better than not.

The next time I go to Borders, I'm going to talk to a manager and get him/her to explain to me why I can't find black authors by genre rather than by race.

bettye griffin said...

You're a peach, Donna! Personally, I shop for books just like I do groceries, electronics, and anything else I buy - where they're cheapest. I'm an author myself, but I'm also a savvy consumer who's trying to load my retirement account.

I get most of my books from Amazon, because, unlike any of the stores in my area, discount or book retailers, they have everything I'm likely to buy in stock. I spend $25 or more at a clip to take advantage of that free postage they offer (I hope they still do it.) Amazon also discounts some of their books, with the biggest price cuts coming on the hardcovers, but even trades can sell for $11 instead of $14.

I'd love to hear what the manager at Borders says. The ones I've spoken to all tell me that the edict to segregate comes from Corporate, because it's what consumers want. Maybe you'll hear something different.

Thanks for posting!

Patricia W. said...

I used to buy most of my books online but I don't anymore because book buying has become more impulsive for me. Cash in pocket + title I'm interested in + discounted price = sale.

Funny, there are three Wal-marts, two of them Supers within my vicinity. One Super, the furthest away, carries none of the Kimani or Arabesque titles, or pretty much any Black titles, although you could bump into several Black or Latino people on every single aisle at any time of day. The other Super, where I do most of my grocery shopping, carries Kimani and Arabesque titles, although not always the most current ones. They also carry other imprints with Black or Latino authors but only a smattering of available titles. Again, large minority customer base.

The Wal-mart closest to me is one of the older stores. Also large minority customer base, but in fact, all three stores still have a predominantly white customer base. This one carries Kimani and Arabesque titles. They're the best of the three as new titles shelve pretty quickly, alongside with lingering copies of older titles. And they do get St. Martin's titles as well.

Don't get me started on Borders. I research there (because my carpool drops me off there) and buy elsewhere, which is a shame because I think they have the best selection. I just don't like their shelving policies.

Gwyneth Bolton said...

I buy my books every where. But mostly I get them at Barnes and Noble, Borders, Amazon.com and e.Harlequin.com. In Syracuse, Borders, sadly, has the largest selection of African American titles. I sometimes go to Walmart if I'm there shopping for something else. I rarely buy books from them because they son't have enough variety and updated titles at the Syracuse Walmart.


shelia said...

I buy most of my books from Wal-mart. I am glad to say I can go to 4 of the 5 Super Wal-marts in the area and find a great selection of AA books. I'm spoiled.

bettye griffin said...

Patricia, Gwyneth, and Shelia - It sounds like Borders is #1 for brick-and-mortar bookstores for African-American buyers . . . and I suspect it might be because they segregate black-authored books (now, that's sad). I don't know where you live, Shelia, but I'll guess it's a major metropolis with a sizeable African-American population. Most of the Wal-Marts in Jacksonville had excellent book selections as well. The ones up here range from lousy to acceptable. They seem to be ignoring areas with standard 12%-15% black residents.

I remember the days when I was spoiled, too.

Thanks for posting!

Patricia W. said...

Bettye, as I said, I don't buy in Borders. I wouldn't even go there if I didn't have to.

But I did think they had the best selection I'd seen of African-American books. Perhaps my perception was skewed because the books were segregated, which flies in the face of my boycott. Although recently, I've noticed that what was a two-sided display of primarily AA fiction has shrunk to a one-sided display for pretty much everything ever written by an AA author, meaning less fiction. Looks to me like Borders--at least mine anyway--is phasing us out.