NYTBR outtakes, Volume 4: Barnes & Noble

One of the most interesting things that I learned while doing the research for this essay was how James Patterson’s YA series Maximum Ride went from being sold only in the YA section of Barnes & Noble to being sold only in the adult section. When I first read this article in the New York Times, I assumed it meant that Barnes & Noble had decided to shelve Maximum Ride in both the YA and the adult sections. It didn’t occur to me that a YA series would be shelved ONLY in adult. I kept asking questions over email until I finally got a spokesperson for Barnes & Noble to speak with me on the phone. Here is an excerpt from our phone conversation:

How did Maximum Ride come to be shelved only in the adult section?

The series was originally published as YA when it first came out. When the second book came out the publisher and author had a discussion, and they spoke with us about how these books had as much appeal to adults as to young adults—adults would enjoy reading these books just as much, and the enjoyment was not specific to a YA audience. In the fiction world, we don’t cross-merchandise books—we don’t put the same book in adult and YA. By putting it in one subject area we came to a conclusion with the publisher that it should be merchandised in Fiction in hardcover and paperback, to be available to all readers. As a whole industry, it’s our goal to put books in subjects where readers will come to find them. We’re offering our customers a place where they can find all James Patterson books.

The YA trade paperback edition is not stocked then?

We’re not stocking it at Barnes & Noble. We have it available for special order.

When did Maximum Ride start being stocked only in adult?

We sent a message to stores on January 16, 2008, that on Feb 8, 2008 we will be moving Maximum Ride Pageturner novels into the adult Fiction section—that both the hardcovers and the paperbacks should be shelved with James Patterson’s other books.

Would you do this for other YA books?

No. I can’t think of another YA book offhand that would fit as an adult book. This is a unique situation.

Have sales increased since the move?

Yes, we’ve seen sales increase since it’s been moved to adult.

Did you consider shelving it in both the YA and adult sections?

We don’t do that.

Why not?

Our stores are huge. We try to have a gigantic selection with many authors and titles—you can’t carry every book, and if the content of the book itself isn’t any different, then we only put the book in its one subject.

A librarian I spoke with suggested an “All Ages” section for books that cross over from YA into adult. Would Barnes & Noble ever consider that?

I don’t know. That’s a bigger decision than we [the spokespeople] can make. It’s very hard to do that with our huge selection—when you have so many subjects, like romance and mystery…We already have to ask, “Is it a mystery? Or a novel?” We do the best we can.

Barnes & Noble has a lot of power in the book industry, and their policy of shelving books only in one place means that American publishers won’t print both an adult and a YA edition of a book, because Barnes & Noble won’t stock both.

There was a letter to the editor in the Book Review this Sunday from a community relations manager at a Barnes & Noble in Encino. She pointed to The Book Thief as an example of a YA novel that is hard for adults to find, and suggested that publishers produce special “book group editions” for adults. However, the reality is that publishers won’t print a separate book group edition, because Barnes & Noble won’t stock it.

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