When you’re opening a bookstore, probably the last thing on your mind is how to shelve your books. You just get some cases and put them on, right? Wrong. Particularly if you’re building your own cases, you want to determine HOW you’re going to display your books first. Otherwise you’ll get stuck with a shelving system that doesn’t work for you or your customers and costs you time and money to redo.
The key part to consider is what KIND of books will you be selling. If it’s almost all paperback, you’ll want to use a different system than if you’ll be carrying only hardcovers.
Advantages: Piled paperbacks are easier to read. If you note, the writing on the spine is generally oriented so you can read it without having to twist your neck around. This makes it easy for customers to browse for titles. It also makes it easy for them to pull out a whole section if they decide they want everything by an author. It’s just grab and go!
This system is also very stable. You can half half the shelf empty and books won’t fall off. It’s also easy to fill gaps by turning books face out without having to worry about nearby books tipping into them. (if you build your own shelves, you’ll waste less space and face out books will look nicer)
You can make these shelves much shallower than normal, which means you can also have wider aisles… or be able to fit another freedstanding case or two in the store.
Disadvantages: Piles get heavy, fast. Piling really only works with mass market paperbacks, kids chapter books, and those darn “not quite a trade back, but bigger than a normal mass market paperback” books that some publishers have started producing in the last few years. Trade paperbacks, hardcovers, and oversize books don’t really pile well because of the weight and the variation in size.
The other downside with piling is that frequently customer put the book back on the top of the pile or an adjascent pile instead of where if belongs alphabetically.
TIP: Don’t pile more 10″ high for adult books, or more han 8″ for kids’ chapter books. Otherwise the weight starts to become difficult for customers to lift.
Straight up and down, library style
Advantages: This is the style most people are familiar with so they can quickly figure out where the book they’re looking for is. It’s also very easy for them to put the book back exactly where they found it, so the maintenance is the lowest of all the various systems.
Because books aren’t supporting the weight of other books, you can also mix and match several different sizes of books without having to worry about whether the pile is stable. Customers don’t have to lift more than a single book at a time.
Most commercial bookshelves are designed with this display method in mind, so you have lots of options.
Disadvantages: The titles on the spine are written to be read when the book is laying on its side. This makes browsing titles hard. Customers may quickly get a crick in their neck. Customers wearing bifocals may also have difficulty reading the titles.
The versatility of mixing together sizes can also be problem here because mass market paperbacks mixed in with tradepaperback and hardcovers may end up vanishing between the books or pushed behind them pretty quickly. You may also end up with books wedged into “triangles” as they bend around smaller neighboring books.
Because of wide variety of sizes, you may also end up with big open spots you can’t actually fit books in.
One other issue is that if the shelves aren’t sufficiently full, the books may just plain fall off the shelves. This is most likely if you’re in an older building with a floor that’s not particularly level, but can happen even on dead level shelves. Be prepared for the occasional crash noise if there’s gaps. (buy some bookends!)
It’s also harder to display books face out on shelves designed for this because of the depth. They may look like they’re swimming in the space. They may also end up deeply in shadow and be hard to read.
This system can also be rough on the edges of dustjackets unless you put a cover on them since they’ll be jostled constantly.
Mix and match!
Advantages: You get a little bit of the strengths of both systems. It’s easier to read the mass market paperbacks and they don’t get lost between the larger books. The stacks of mass markets can serve as anchors between rows of larger books to keep them from tipping over and falling.
Disadvantages: You may end up with weird gaps because of mixing together the types. It’s also difficult to maintain alphabetical order. People are confronted with two different ways to put the book back and often you’ll end up with mass markets in the trades and trades awkwardly shoved on the top of a pile of mass markets. It’s the highest maintenance for organization.
TIP: for this mix and match system you may want medium depth shelves. (about 6″) Yes, some trade and hardbacks will protrude over the edge… but your mass markets won’t look like they’re swimming around in all the extra space either. Face out books won’t be in shadow. editor’s note: a little slatwall shelf works great for a mix and match section.
Everything face out
Advantages: Everything is immediately visible and impulse buys are high. Very low maintenance.
Disadvantages: Takes up 10X as much space as any other method.
Note how I didn’t include a picture here. Unless you have oodles and oodles of space, this method isn’t going to work for a whole store. The occasional endcap or featured book table is as far as most stores can afford to take it. If you’re doing very high end rare books that people should really only handle on tables, this way be a viable option, but 99% of stores can’t afford to use this method.
The book explosion
- Yes, it looks like a book filled bomb has exploded here…
- Yes, it looks like a book filled bomb has exploded here…
Advantages: Nobody feels bad about messing up the system.
Disadvantages: Nobody can find anything.
It’s pretty well inevitable with a bookstore you will end up with some oddly sized items or items waiting to be shelved that will end up looking like an untidy pile in no particular order. If you have a bookstore cat or dog, they may also decide this is a great pile to sleep on…
No matter what you do, there will be days where it the children’s section looks like this. Kids don’t put books back where they found them. Or they put them back in the wrong place, upside down, or backwards. Give up now. No matter how carefully you plan your shelving system, there will be days that the kids section looks like this.
Build your own or buy them premade?
Once you’ve figured out the system you want to use, you’ll better know whether you feel up to a carpentry project or not. Most premade bookshelves are usually designed for the library style shelving, but a little searching may yield ones suitable for the other methods. If you really want to go all out with the face out books, you could even opt for gridwall or slatwalls!
Either way, make sure you go in with a plan or your bookstore may permanently look like that book explosion picture!