China Miéville excepted, the finalists for this year's best SF novel have one thing in common: mainstream invisibility
Mark Charan Newton's blog for more discussion on book selling techniques], this space is paid for by publishers wanting to promote their latest releases. The shelving, on the other hand, tends to be a mixture of TV tie-ins, urban fantasy, paranormal romance and 'standards' such as Pratchett, Rankin, Jordan, Eddings and Gemmell. Very similar to what WHSmiths offer in their larger stores. No innovative or cutting-edge titles to be seen. Not even any China Miéville...
It is the range of titles available online that appeals to me. In the evening I can read a review on a blog, check online and have the book waiting on my doorstep by the time I get home from work the following day. Bookstores, of course, cannot physically stock the same amount of books as an online store, but they could improve their ordering and online services. They could also return to a branch-based stock policy rather than a centralised distribution system that ignores regional variations and local culture.
Waterstones, when it first started, was a pleasure to shop in. Their large store in Kingston was a haven in the madness of the Bentall Centre on a Saturday afternoon... and they had a huge SFF section! But over the years the section shrank and became full of 'standards'. The offbeat and unusual books were out and tie-ins became the norm. I checked out the new Borders when it opened and was impressed that they had researched the local area and had a huge Manga section - there is a large South Korean community in the Kingston area and the kids love their Manga, it was always busy. Waterstones had, by this time, become more 'corporate' and lost out on this high-spending customer base by not being in tune with their local customers.
So, are bookstores killing themselves? I really hope not. There is something very soothing about mooching around a well stocked SFF section, where new authors are promoted via staff reviews and the stock has been selected by someone who actually knows the genre. It's not that difficult, but I fear that the 'hard-core' book buyer (and I include myself in this group) has long gone to the vast emporium that is online. With the advent of eBooks and the iPad/iBooks physical bookstores are further under threat. Will the big chains stop and re-evaluate their business model in a fight to survive? Or are we watching the death throes of the hidebound bookstore chains?