Are ethnic bookstore sections worth the trouble?
In US stores, do African-American sections help or hinder sales?
Could they be considered racist?
An interesting item in GalleyCat begs these questions, and more.
GalleyCat contributor Jeff Rivera interviewed erotica author Zane (pictured).
He asked: “What are your thoughts on bookstores shelving books in the African-American section instead of alongside other fiction works?”
Zane replied: “They sell better. That’s been documented. There’s no question about that. When someone goes into a bookstore and they’re looking for African-American books, they’re going to look for the African-American section. If they dig mystery books, they’re going to look at the mystery section. I’ve done my research and seen the figures; I’ve met with the owners and heads of bookstore chains. I used to sit in a Borders bookstore, bring my manuscript submissions with me to read, and for hours on the weekends I’d watch how people selected books, what caught their attention, what made some people look at books more, and what they actually took to the register.”
An interesting reply. New Zealand bookstores typically feature a prominent Maori section, replete with gorgeously illustrated volumes on such things as tikanga, the haka, and Maori art.
But should they place fiction by Maori authors there, or shelve them according to genre?
And what about novels with Maori protagonists (Wiki Coffin leaping to mind)?
The Wiki Coffin mystery novels were always shelved as mysteries. Would they have done better in the Maori section? It's a thought.
I'm also reminded of a time I called at a huge bookstore in Long Beach, California, on the search for books by and about Frederick Douglass. I was sent (of course) to the African-American section, which turned out to be in a remote corner that was very ill-lit. As I sorted through the shelves, I became aware that I had an audience. When I turned, a group of young Black men were watching me. We smiled, and nodded. Then one of them spoke.
He said, "What does a person like you want to read books about people like us for?"
That was about ten years ago. So it is very reassuring to learn from Zane that since then the situation has changed -- to the extent that having books in African-American sections helps sales.