If you’ve been in one Barnes and Noble, you’ve been in them all. The layout may change, but their displays are preplanned by corporate and so therefore the stores end up displaying the same books in relatively the same place for better or worse. It is my understanding that publishers pay for these spots, sometimes, and other times, the company just thinks the book meshes well with the display*. The one display that (hopefully) is not predetermined is the Best Seller display. Rather than go by the “Times,” the display is based on BN’s own sales throughout the previous week.
At the end of 2016, towards the election, the displays turned political for obvious reasons. What piqued my interest about it was that most of the books displayed were somewhat-to-definitely pro-Trump, while definitely anti-Hillary. As the company touted its pro-diverse, pro-democracy on Barnes and Noble Inside, the employee news hub, they lament that the “election was causing poor sales,” because “people want to stay inside and save their money in these troubling times.”
As a person, I wanted nothing to do with these books. They were making a joke out of a very trying time in the lives of so many Americans. None of the books were objective, and it seemed as if more and more Conservatives walked through our doors every day, either by coincidence or design. I sold gun magazines, Michael Savage books, and Guilty as Sin. There was not a single time I rang up Stronger Together, but Make America Great Again and Crisis of Character were often top sellers. There was even a graphic novel version of Clinton Cash. I actually rung up more than one person who told me, a salesperson they did not know from Eve, that I did not deserve to make a living wage, because I didn’t have a real job.
After the election was over, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders’ books were off the charts popular in our store. Our customers, it turns out, were not only made up of old conservative men and elderly women, but the pre-election sales and post-election sales touted shockingly different values. BN Inside published a lachrymose letter from our CEO, stating that we would move forward positively despite the setback the election caused, and hopefully we could settle now into a better sales climate. Now, Barnes and Noble promotional emails suggest that we buy What Happened, Hillary Clinton’s memoir about her election experience.
Yes, Barnes and Noble is a store. Yes, they have sales to drive, and quite frankly, they are a sinking ship with too many holes and not enough plugs. But I feel this is taking advantage of people so blatantly, almost outright stating that all they want is our money. As a bookseller, I understand the need for a store to have sales, but as a customer, I feel betrayed and lied to and like just another number. Just like I felt as an employee. But that’s a post for a different day.
*I cringe at the use of “display” so many times, but it is actually called a “display” and there was no other way to word it that would convey what I meant.