Bookstore Conundrum

If you go into any big-box bookstore these days, you'll find a huge section of manga titles (that is, Japanese comic books), including dozens of different series, many of them running to a dozen or more volumes. This section is always impeccably organized, with all the series grouped neatly together, and the overall section alphabetical by series.

Right next to that, there will be a considerably smaller section of "graphic novels" (that is, Western comic books). The shelving for this section always appears to have been done by poorly trained chimpanzees. They rarely even mange to have books from the same series next to one another, and there's no detectable pattern to the way the books are placed on the shelves. Are they sorted by author? By publisher? By ISBN? Nobody knows.

Why is that? Do they use special ink for Japanese comic books that makes people orderly and law-abiding? Do they soak graphic novel paper in LSD? Why is it that I can tell at a glance whether they have volume 57 of Dragon Ball Z, but can never be sure that they don't have a copy of the next volume of Lucifer hiding somewhere in the jumble of X-Men relaunches?


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No offense, but Lucifer wasn't really worth buying (I got the whole crappy series from one bittorrent download). Maybe they don't organise them for that reason?

(Not that Dragon Ball Z is much better)

I enjoyed Lucifer quite a bit, at least the first ten volumes. It's just an example, though-- pick a series you actually like, and odds are you won't be able to find that easily, either.

Given that that section tends to get quite heavily browsed (in my local bookstore anyway), it might just be that comic-book readers aren't natural filers...

My guess would be closest to #5 - the manga stays organized because once placed there, it hardly gets touched, and there's little or no re-sorting going on.

By Nathan Williams (not verified) on 17 Nov 2006 #permalink

Probably a difference in spine design too. The manga series seem to have spiffy, consistent spines with lines and things to help line them up, and big numbers to keep them in order. That helps both staff and customers to keep things in order.

Where I am, there is a large comic book shop close to the local big-box book shop, so the "graphic novel section" doesn't get browsed as intensely as it might elsewhere. The ordering seems to be more or less as follows:

For "Big names", (I guess you know them when you see them?) they are listed in order of name. The miscellaneous ones follow by order of the first author's surname.

So all the miscellaneous JLA graphic novels tend to end up together and The Sandmans, Y:The Last Man and Fables are more or less in alphabetical order of the primary author. This leads to trouble in the case of the various series that have different authors in that they get scattered all over the place by author name.

As far as I can tell, though, Chapters doesn't really get comics and can't seem to figure out that building up complete series and presenting them in a nice fashion would do wonders for sales.

As for Lucifer, the series finished earlier this year, so you can grab the entire thing on the Internet if you're impatient. I did this back when they were saying that "Lucifer: Nirvana" wasn't going to be collected in Evensong and I'm still going to buy the collection in January.

My guess would be that the disparity has to do with the fact that for manga publishers, bookstores are the primary market, so their trade dress is designed to be shelf-browsable, they maintain relationships with the bookstore chains and tell them how to organize stuff, etc. The main market for American comics, OTOH, are comic book stores, so they don't have bookstore-friendly trade dress, and probably don't maintain a close business relationship with the stores. And thus the presentation of their wares in the store sucks.

Most Borders I've been in shelve the American comics by publisher (DC, Marvel, and Other), and either by title or by author within a publisher. Sometimes inconsistently! There was one Borders in L.A. that shelved all the US comics simply by title, a la the manga section, and it was great. I have no idea why more stores don't do it that way.

same in our bookstores.

But the REAL bookstore conundrum is that there are usually 5-10 times as many books on ESP/Ghosts/Astrology/NewAge pseudo science as there are books on science!!!!

Forget writing NSF grants, I'm gonna write a book on the healing powers of quantum crystals, whatever the heck those might be :-)

Never fear, Retail Man (currently in a big chain bookstore) is here!

Unfortunately my store has the same issue as you describe re: graphic novels and manga. Pam partially hit the nail on the head with the design of the books -- manga titles have giant numbers on the side and are all the same color and the same size, so they're easy to keep in order. Graphic novels vary in terms of size and have no clear ordering preference, so even at the best of stores they're likely to get a bit out of order.

Also, and this may be more a function of my location than anything, manga titles tend to be very popular with young people who come in looking for "Naruto 21" or whatever, whereas graphic novels are on no set schedule and titles arrive sporadically. Since many of our customers are looking for a specific title and are not there to browse, it's a lot easier to keep things in order.

Personally, I'd love to get the chance to seriously reorganize our graphic novel section -- it's one of the messiest areas of the store. Unfortunately, my time is not my own there (I'm a low-paid hourly associate) and there are always things for me to do that are at a much higher priority than rearranging graphic novels. Keep in mind that really resorting these things is fairly time consuming (and with Christmas coming up time is one thing that we have very little of to begin with) and it's a bit more understandable (although no less regrettable) that there's a lack of organization in certain areas.