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Name that bookstore section!

January 9, 2008

When we bring a new book proposal into the publishing house where I work, we often spend a lot of time talking about what the right shelf for a book is.  It’s not always an easy thing.  For instance, back in “the day”, circa 1995 or so, most books on the Internet, regardless of topic, went on a “General Computing” shelf.  So you had your how to hook up your computer to the Internet books sitting along side your Internet business, Internet marketing, Internet job search, and online dating books.  Over the years, these books have migrated to more topic specific shelves in other areas of the store.  Still, in the new era of social media, we’re often faced with a quandary when it comes to these titles.  Is a book on social media marketing best shelved in technology or in business?  We tend to make the decisions based on a number of factors:

* How techy exactly is the book?  Does it require basic knowledge (setting up a WordPress blog, opening a twitter account) or does it expect you to understand more intricate procedures (hosting your own blog, creating widgets)?  Techier books tend to go in the Technology section, while books without many screenshots and procedures go into Business.  It sometimes breaks out to theory books vs. practice, but it’s not always that cut and dry. 

* Where is the target customer going to be most likely to find the book?  The answer is rarely “at the front of the store”.  Even if we did get a front table or cash wrap placement for a title, a rare thing indeed for most tech and business books, that isn’t a category for shelving and every book needs one.  If the customer is more likely looking for similar books in tech rather than business, that’s our shelf.

* Where have other books we’ve done that are like this book gone, and how well have they sold?  A big consideration, results in the field do often sway our thinking, but the shelf is not static, and prior results are no guarantee of future performance. 

There are more considerations, but those are by far the most frequently referred to.  Now, I’m not a retailer, but I would love to see our bigger bricks and mortar chains come up with a section for social media books.  One where we could find “Naked Conversations” next to “WordPress For Dummies“, one shelf over from “The New Rules of Marketing and PR” and stuff like that.  Me, Ellen, as a customer is reading all types of books like this.  I’d love to find them on one hot, juicy social media shelf.  Not tech strictly, or business strictly, but my stuff.  This kind of stuff.  Not having to go all over the store to find it, but having one special place where it all resided.

The issue is irrelevant on Amazon, BN.com and other online retailers.  It’s in a physical store where books can only be shelved in one place where this really matters.  So I ask you, dear readers, what would you call the shelf where you can find all these books?  Social media, social networking, digital lifestyles, the cool books that everyone should be reading?  I’d love to make the pitch to some bricks and mortar retailers to create such a shelf, with the right name, of course.  The right name will give the signal to the customer that this is where they can find these books, but be in some senses lowest common demominator so as not to confuse or worse, scare away any prospective book buyers.  I think social media is great, but does everyone book buyer know what the prospect of a shelf with that header means?  Is Digital Lifestyles too 1999?

So, feel free to comment away!  Vote early and often. 

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. hrbrmstr permalink
    January 9, 2008 11:55 am

    I vote for “Connective Technologies & Social Media”. Four words may be too much for a shelf title these days, tho.

    I think that encompasses the tech-side and the – for lack of better phrasing – “touchy-feely” side (“soft” side?).

    Individuals should be able to find their Twitter for Dummies books there, branders should be able to find their comprehensive references on integrating blogs, IM, twitter, RSS, etc into a social-engagement strategy and IT techs should be able to find their Drupal, WordPress, and multi-site API reference books.

    Am interested in hearing the opine/suggestions of others, tho.

  2. January 9, 2008 12:51 pm

    I think “Social Media” or “Connective Technologies & Social Media” (as suggested) are too inside baseball for the average B&N/Borders Browser (heretofore referenced as a BBB).

    I’m trying to put myself in the mind of a marketer trying to figure out if blogging will help their business, or a mother wondering what the heck a “twitter” is, and why she should care?

    (As an aside: you don’t think that anyone under the age of 25 would EVER pick out a book from this shelf do you? Kind of why even using “Social Media” is not right. If you know what that means, then you don’t really need these books…)

    I’m leaning more towards “Online Life”, or “Life Online,” That may be too Second Life-ish, but unless you communicate that this is where you find out about your ONLINE presence and communication, it’s a non-starter.

    I know, long comment, and not very much help, but if I flash on something, I’ll come back.
    – Steve

  3. jwikert permalink
    January 9, 2008 12:54 pm

    “Social Media” is an excellent choice. Google the phrase and you’ll see it’s extremely popular and common, plus, most of the higher ranking links in the search results tie into the titles/subjects you’re talking about.

    Lastly, it’s also just vague enough to draw interest from those who might be unsure of its meaning, which isn’t a bad thing either!

  4. January 9, 2008 3:18 pm

    I see two choices: “Social Media” and “Cool shit.” Both work for me.

  5. freshspot permalink
    January 9, 2008 3:57 pm

    Social Media seems to be the accepted term these days.

    I like Shel’s choice above (the one with the bad word), but only use that if his book (Naked Conversations) and mine (New Rules of Marketing & PR) are both displayed cover out!

    David Meerman Scott

  6. January 9, 2008 7:58 pm

    hrbrmstr – While I agree 4 words may be a bit long for the header, I do like the range of topics you suggest having in there. There may be a temptation to put gadgets (iPod, iPhone, etc) in there as well. They have their places in the store, it’s just not here.

    David, Shel – I will certainly do what it takes to get both of your books front and center in any sort of a section like this! You both are “poster children” (meant in the best sense of the saying) for what this “cool $h)t” is all about.

    Steve – you’re right when you say that under 25s won’t be heading in a section like this. I think physical bookstores aren’t doing all they can to get the 17-25 set in stores. They’ve got kids areas, they know how to sell to adults, but the in-betweens are not served. And that’s the audience we’re in danger to losing when it comes to reading in general. But that’s another blog entry.

    Joe – “Social Media” does seem to be working for most people. The only other phrase I could think of was “Social Computing”, but I don’t know if that is too vague for what the shelf would be trying to achieve.

    Thanks to all for taking the time to weigh into this conversation.

  7. Talula permalink
    January 9, 2008 10:07 pm

    How about simply “Blogging for Fun & Business” or to use part of the already suggested title “Life & Business Online” both clear, to the point and understandable for ANY age group targeted?

    FYI: you are really shortchanging your market target age if you think only 25 & unders use the blog world. It has become the must mktg. tool for ALL businesses and social groups over 10 years old.

  8. May 27, 2008 7:09 pm

    Coming very late to this discussion, but it’s a conversation I’ve also been having with bricks and mortar booksellers. It seems that ‘personal technology’ is winning out as the overall section moniker. Then there are subsections for digital photography, music, etc. … and hopefully soon social media. Though I’ve yet to meet a bookstore buyer personally who knows what ‘twitter’ is.

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