Killing a section, you're next sports – better shape up.

Part I by Bruce Hollingdrake, your host at Bookshop Blog

Have you scrapped a complete section recently? I fear that I’ve been a bit stuck in my ways. I assumed that any self-respecting bookshop should always have a nice supply of the ‘standard’ categories. Of course each shop will have variances based on locality and customer cravings but I believed that the main sections would be found in every generalists shop. As of this past weekend we no longer have a biography section. I’ve been reading more and more about dead zones in ones shop and how important it is to only keep products that move. I was wearing blinders when it comes to removing a complete section, never even considered it, but it makes sense. I rarely heard anyone say where’s the bio section and I definitely have other sections that move well and could use a little growth. So here’s my question. Do you have a dead section and have you considered removing it altogether? Have you recently done anything similar? Of course we will still carry biographies but they will be scattered about the place. Cary Grant meet the film section, Douglas Bader will be flying with some buddies in the history section and that nice little Van Gogh well its art and design for you.

Part II by Nora at Rainy Day Paperback

It took a little while for us to start killing sections as first we needed to computerize the inventory. Previous owner had no inventory other than what was in her head.

To decide which sections to kill we go by a space vs sales volume. To not be marked for possible death, 10% of the books in a section must have moved in a a 6 month period. If that’s not happening, I’ll strip the section first.

Basically I look over the section and pull anything more than 2 years old. It either goes to the rare books inventory that’s just available online, goes to ebay, gets moved to a section that’s selling like hotcakes, or goes to live at Goodwill.

Sometimes that stripping will be all it takes to make the section take off. Fewer choices actually means more sales. The visual clutter has gone away!

If the section is still lagging six month later, we’ll restrip it and then look it over on all metrics. Is it using space efficiently? Has the dollar OR item volume increased since six months ago? If it’s still lagging, it usually gets cut down to nothing older than 18 months.

And if its still sucking on third try, it gets totally axed! Why take so long? Beacuse some sections can be rehabilitated by being pruned or moved.

I keep a floor map of what sections are selling efficiently and which aren’t. Sometimes its the location that’s making a section an utter dog and moving it will rehabilitate it. And sometimes it makes NO SENSE. I’ve moved True Crime repeatedly. Next to mystery? No. Next to thriller? No. Next to biography? No. History? No. On an island in the middle of science fiction where you can’t find it except by accident because sign is facing the wrong way? Yes, HERE it’ll sell. WTF.

Some of my worst dogs have also been rehabilitated by diligent pruning. Thriller went from an absolute bloated dog to a best selling section. Ditto Regency Romance. Thrillers is huge and takes up a case and a half, so contributes a lot of bottom line. Regency only takes up 1/4 a case, but uses its space very, very well.

Sections I’ve eliminated at used book store:
*RIP 2005- Finance & Jobs- threw a lot of it out, rest went to business or self help
*RIP 2005- Relationship- threw 95% out, rest went to self help and psychology
*RIP 2005-Anthropology- I have my degree in this, so I was pained by eliminating it. Was scattered across travel, sociology, and history, rest chucked.
*RIP 2005 Computers- these go out of date so fast, they actually need to be stripped every 6 months or so. Rolled rest into the Science and Technology section.
*RIP 2006 – World History & American history – stripped and consolidated into single history section, no divisions. (I’m also one block away from a store that does nothing but history and military, so this would not be typical problem section for most store)
*RIP 2007- Film- chucked all the dated video guides, moved a few things to biography and drama
*RIP 2007- Sociology- nobody cares about this topic unless they’re taking a class. Most got chucked. A few things went to history, travel, or psychology.
RIP 2007- Sports- a lot went to biography. Shoved some of the “how tos” into the kids section. Rest, out the door!

Biography has thus far escaped the ax. It needs careful watching to keep it from ballooning up and sucking more shelf space than it deserves. It’s in need of a trim again…

10 thoughts on “Killing a section, you're next sports – better shape up.”

  1. We recently scrapped our literary criticism/biography section (well, we eliminated it in one of our shops and moved it to a different shop), which took up six sets of shelves but didn’t sell much.

    Of course, since we did away with it, we seem to have at least one person a day ask what happened to it. I guess they were looking but not buying.

  2. Besides the five or six most recent bestsellers, I always found the self-help section to be a lot of quickly dated, dead weight.

    In the B+M store I used to work in, we also filed the biographies in the appropriate subject section.

    We had a “collectible” section that, was mostly Heritage/Franklin Library that no one touched. We replaced it with “New York” and “Curiosities” and they worked much better.

    Penciling the date received next to the price in a used book is the best way to control this. When a section starts to bloat you can exile old titles to the dollar table and decide if a category is worth the space.

  3. We’ve tried to kill biographies on a couple occasions but they just pop up again hydra-like in a different spot. We did give business, romance, and self-help the ax though. I’ve been looking to kill off psychology as well but am having trouble bringing myself to it.

  4. I scrapped “biography” more than 20 years ago. I mean what does Cary Grant, Douglas Bader and Vincent van Gogh have in common anyway? Also, when you place the people who were actors in your entertainment section, when you place Second World War pilots in your Militaria section and when you place artists in a art section, they sell better!

    I recently sold all my automobile books to a specialist. Anybody out there know someone who’d like five shelves of journalism, publishing history and the like?

  5. I really enjoyed this blog topic as the owner of an open shop in upstate New York, Old Saratoga Books. It’s put me in motion pruning and thinking about killing whole sections. I just blogged about it on the Book Trout, which you can check out at

    Old Saratoga Books/Book Trout

  6. I did a Happy Dance the day I decided to kill the Romance! All those heaving bosoms and steely gazes were making me feel very uncomfortable. People still insist that I should have something for everyone, but I figure that those penny-romances can easily be sourced through op-shops etc.

  7. While I have yet to take the plunge of killing a whole section, this has spurred me into a culling storm within the bookstore! It’s really making everything beautiful, and I’m fronting lots of stuff in previously clogged and stuffed sections. Hopefully the new & improved look will capture more eyes, and spur people to purchase books out of sections they haven’t visited before.

    Does anyone know any good software to do plan-o-grams in?

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