These books are not for you- the color coded shelves

Anyone with a bookstore knows that half the time, people don’t read the signs anyway. You could have foot tall leters and they could be looking straight at the sign and still ask you where X is…while looking at the sign for X.

People amble around the shop and clearly aren’t reading titles, just looking for SOMETHING that tells them they’re in the right section.  And the stacks of books themselves tell them when they’ve found it.

Publishers put a lot of effort into the FRONT of the book, but you don’t really think about the SPINE being just as important, especially when shelved.

Quick, you’re looking for books to read.  Which way do you go? Left or right?

If you’re a guy, you probably said left. If you’re a women, you probably said right.

Blurred into just blocks of color, its pretty easy to tell which section is intended for which gender.

Unblurred, the titles are fairly clear.  Those blacks, whites, and pure heavily satured primary and secondary colors are for MEN.  Pastels, multicolored books, and desaturated secondary colors, women.  Note the lack of primary colors in the the women’s section.  There’s just one BLUE book.  The others are all multicolored blue, and nto a pure primary blue at that. No pure red for the ladies.  (Harlequin Blaze and Temptation come close… but if you look at a wall of them you realize they use a red gradient, not a straight primary color)

The ladies books also have a lot of wrap around decoration on the side. Most of the men’s books just have the text, no extra ornmentation.

Confronted with a wall of these, its often easy to see why men poke their nose into the romance section and without ever seeing the sign, LEAVE.  This is clearly not where I belong. Ditto ladies finding the wall of men’s serial shoot ’em ups. NOT FOR ME.

This is not to say that all books are automatically gendered and nobody picks up the other gender’s books.  Women surely like action shoot ’em ups too and there’s fellows that enjoy a nice romance.  MOST genres appeal to both, but even within the genre, the colors tend to follow a pattern.  Even if it does play to sterotypes, publishers have trained readers to look for books in certain colors as being “my kind of books.”

This photo of the mystery section clearly includes titles for both based on the overall color. But if someone asked you to quickly pick books off the shelf for someone based on whether it was a male or female reader, you’d probably hand the man mostly red and black books, the woman the particolored and paler colored ones.

That WALL of color can serve as a deterant to browsers and they may turn back upon encountering a wall of the other gender’s color… even if signage says what they want is just beyond that point. They’re not reacting consciously to the sign, just unconsciously to the signals that say they’re in the wrong section. It can be a barrier in your layout.  Beyond this point no man or woman will venture!  As such, sections that have that very clear color pattern saying “girls only” or “boys only” may do best in dead ends or wrap around areas and off main pathways where they may stop people in their tracks and send them back towards front of the store, never completing circuit. Put them where a stop sign won’t make people turn around and go back the way they came without going all the way to the back.

By same token, you can use that color blend to “trick” customers into section they’d never voluntarily enter based on name. ROMANCE? NOT TOUCHING IT!

Oh wait now…

I have the romantic suspense right next to the men’s action thrillers and quite a lot of men buy romantic suspense titles out of there that would probably never touch ‘romance’ with a 10′ pole. The blacks and reds blend into the actions section’s reds and black… but the extra decoration on spine and the gradients also tell the ladies these are for them.  And it can lead the ladies into the action section… it goes both ways.

Would painting the shelves in those heavily gendered sections in the opposite gender’s colors encourage people to buy from them?  Probably not by themselves.  It might even just confuse them and make it harder for them to find that particular section.  If they walked in and you asked they what they’re looking for, they’d never SAY they were looking for books in a particular color pattern… yet they’ll know it when they see it.

But if you DO have to stick one of these highly gender specific sections on a main thoroughfare, painting the shelves the opposite gender’s colors to break up the color block may just get people past the spine stop sign so they’ll keep browsing.

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Comment (6)

    Suzie
    October 1, 2010 - 8:36 am

    Nice, very clever thinking. I never actually stopped and said to myself ‘that has a wrap around decoration therefore it’s romance’, I’ve just made the connection. It’s interesting how we’re trained.

      Nora O'Neill
      October 1, 2010 - 12:12 pm

      Fantasy and scifi also typical have a full wrap around decoration. The romances seem to either have a full wrap or they have the small portrait piece on the spine. Some other genres do that little portrait piece in between the author and title, but romance just does it a lot more than any other group.

        Suzie
        October 2, 2010 - 6:32 am

        And that’s really bizarre then, ‘cos I can generally look at a book and correctly categorize it within either romance or sf/f. Makes me wonder if I’ve been right or wrong.

    P. J. Grath
    October 2, 2010 - 2:55 pm

    Blue for boat books, green for garden, but I hadn’t noticed that books geared to women are seldom blue. Now I’ll be watching for the rare blue chick-lit title.

      Nora
      October 5, 2010 - 1:05 pm

      Blue is not uncommon for books for women, its just not a true undiluted primary BLUE. It’ll be aqua, or navy, or midnight, or any number of other blues, but not the straight undiluted primary blue. Thrillers seem to be the only books that come in “blue screen of death” primary blue.

      It’s rare to see any book in a straight primary color. Straight secondary colors are also rare. Most greens aren’t the true “green” off the color wheel. they’re darker or lighter, paler or darker. Purple and orange are just plain rare.

      Thiller/action shoot ’em ups seem to be the only area where you get those undiluted primary and secondary colored titles that look like a swatch off the color wheel. Though I cannot think of a single PURPLE thriller I’ve ever seen.

    Therese Holland
    October 8, 2010 - 5:46 am

    I hadn’t given that a lot of thought Nora
    though I always noted the bright pink and bright yellow books that are the really light ‘chick lit’
    and a lot of the middle of the road women’s fiction has a white background
    and I too, get a few men who are happy to read romantic suspense and I used to have one guy who read mills and boon

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