A Bit About Jargon: Displays

April 12, 2011 at 9:00 am (Industry) (, , , )

Before we begin, I have been…oh, let’s say requested…by a new company policy at my work to post a disclaimer. I’m cheating a little as I do this, because I haven’t said what company what I work for and frankly don’t intend to, but in the spirit of one who more or less follows the rules, here goes: The views and opinions expressed in this blog, and the statements made therein, are in no way indicative of or reflect the views, opinions, and statements of the company I work for, and should not be thus construed. Consider this my past, present, and future disclaimer. That being done, let’s continue, shall we?

A question I get a lot from customers, and from a fair amount of small press local authors, is about displays. How do we decide what goes on display? Why can’t we make a display of his/her book?

The first one is the easiest to answer: how do we decide what goes on display?

We don’t.

Okay, we mostly don’t. IF there’s space left over after everything we’re required to have, we can sometimes create a Staff Recommends or Local Interest display. That’s a big IF, though, because the way displays normally work is this: publishers buy them. It’s true, it all comes down to money. Publishers pay the big book retailers to display the titles they want to push. I have no idea how much display a given amount of money buys, and don’t need to know. At least not yet, anyway- someday it might have more immediate meaning. There are different types of displays, and different amounts of visibility.

Corrugates: Also called dumps, as in book dump. They come in different sizes and shapes, holding anywhere from three to sixteen (or who knows, maybe more) spaces for books. Sometimes it’s just a vertical shaft for the books on top of a support to keep it standing, no frills, no extras, relying purely on the book itself to capture your attention. Corrugates can also be very elaborate, with full size figures or designs that tie in the cover or theme of the book. A recent example of this can be seen with Lauren DeStefano’s Wither; the shaft holds a column of three hardcover books (perhaps four or five books deep in each pocket), with an elaborate, withered tree around the construction and the design theme of the book chasing across the branches with the phrase “No girl has escaped”. It’s eye-catching, draws the attention of browsers as well as makes it easy to distinguish it from the other books.

Endcaps: Aisles finish off in what are called endcaps, and should always have a unifying theme. Sometimes these are single-publisher displays; more often, these cross different publishers to group around whatever that theme is. A good example of the first one was the To Kill a Mockingbird anniversary not too long ago- it had several different editions of the book as well as essay collections and commentaries. For the second, you know that new show, The Borgias? There are a fair number of novels out there that deal with the Borgias as either main or incidental characters, or are set within the same time period and locations, so these all tie together nicely into a display to not only advertise the series but attract people who are already fans of the series and want to learn more. These also serve to group together similar titles so that someone who has read and loved one can find others that might appeal to them.

Stepladders: These are usually prominent in the front of the store and change every week for the brand spanking new releases. These books are the BIG PUSH by the publishers, because they’re pretty much the first thing the customers see when they enter the store. These fixtures occasionally share titles, but it’s rare- it’s almost always significant quantity of a single title.

Tables: There are a lot of different kinds of tables. Smaller ones usually group around a specific author or series, usually in preparation for or celebration of a new release/movie/reissue. Larger tables, because of their size, have to be a lot more general. New In Hardcover Fiction, for example, or Back to School. These are themes with very large windows that allow a lot of books to be on display at once, anywhere from twenty to a hundred titles depending on the size of the table.

There are a couple of other types of displays as well- waterfalls, in section features, etc- but they follow the same basic principles as the others.

There are two kinds of exceptions.

Bestseller bays: This is a purely by-the-numbers display, one that has nothing to do with the publisher and everything to do with the simple fact of whether or not people are buying the books. Like the others, we have zero control over this on a store level.

New Release bays: These are a little trickier, because they’re a weird blend of by-the-numbers and common sense. When a book releases in quantity, if it isn’t on a display, we put it into a new release section at the head of its genre to draw extra attention. Yes, this can create confusion, but it’s actually meant to be easier: when a new book comes in, you check with the new books. These rotate through on a couple of factors: sales, how long we’ve had it, whether or not the vendor wants it back, and whether or not we’re modeled for it. (When we’re modeled, it means it’s something the company expects us to have on hand all the time- as soon as we sell a title below the modeled number, it’s on automatic reorder. Modeled titles are the ones everyone expects to see, the ones that have continued sales). As we figure through these different factors, we either leave a title in the new release bay, move it in lesser numbers to the section, or return it to the vendor.

The New Release bays are the only ones that are store specific. Everything else is mandated by agreements between the home office and publishers.

We have to do those displays, but every now and then, there’s a little bit of space left over, an empty endcap, a spare small table, maybe even a display behind the registers or in the window, that we can play with. WITHIN LIMITS. If you’re a local author wanting to get your book into stores, and it’s actually possible for the store to do so (thaaaaaat’s probably best to save for another post), this is sometimes the best way to get that extra visibility, IF the store has the extra space to do a Staff Recs or Local Interest. Be warned, though, this is very rare. It’s far more common that we have to struggle to get up all of the required displays, much less the optional but strongly suggested ones that have to come before anything we might want to add on a store level. Larger stores will have a better chance of this; smaller stores pretty much never manage it. If they have the space, if they can get your book, and if you speak very politely with the community relations managers, this could be your way onto a display, but all other displays are mandated by publishers and home office.

Of course, the important thing to keep in mind is that this is all in reference to the larger chains. Independant bookstores are going to have a lot more leeway in this, and within reason are a lot more able to work with local authors. Something to remember.

Any questions about displays? Or anything else? Let me know, and I’ll do my best.

Until next time~

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