The Problems with Genre Racking

Bookstores rack by genre; why don’t comic stores?

Here’s some possible reasons:

  1. In comics, the majority of comics stocked by the majority of stores are in one genre, superhero. Why rack by genre if over 80% of your books are in the same one?
  2. In order for a genre racking system to work, you’ve got to know where to find the books. This requires either a computerized tracking system (beyond the scope of many comic stores) or a well-educated staff who can remember in which area each and every book is located. You don’t want to lose a sale because you couldn’t find the book until two days after the customer left.
  3. Many comics don’t clearly fit in one genre, and most genres have fuzzy boundaries. Where do you put the horror/Western? How about the goth soap opera? Or the romantic comedy? Or the superhero mystery?
  4. Books come labeled to help avoid that problem. Many book-format comics have similar labels these days, but stapled comics don’t. Without clear labels, who wants to waste time arguing over whether something best belongs, given the number of new items coming in every week? Or put up with Joe-Bob’s pouting because he thinks that Hellboy isn’t a superhero book?
  5. Genre is great for “if you like this, try that”-style cross-selling, but many current comic shop customers buy based on company or creator names and will branch out in those directions instead. They find genre racking an annoyance at best. (At worst, some of the excessive cases avoid comic shops that try to look too much like bookstores because they like the Android’s Dungeon clubhouse approach.)

Now, it may make sense for a store to have some genre areas. Popular examples include kids’ comics or those of Goth interest. It’s also easier for a store to do if they’re willing to invest in multiple copies of certain titles, so they can put them in different areas.


9 Responses to “The Problems with Genre Racking”

  1. Matt Maxwell Says:

    Good piece. I’d add to #1 that not only are comics fans largely fans of a single set of genre trappings, but generally only interested in the work of one publisher. How crazy would it be for bookstores to have all Random House books in one section, etc.?

    Super crazy.

    Part of the problem was that there used to be so few comics books (as opposed to periodicals) that they could be shoehorned into one section of a store. Now that this is no longer the case (thankfully), we’re suffering major growing pains.

    Of course, this doesn’t just apply to western comics. How weird is it that the same shelf might have FRUITS BASKET a few titles away from GYO? The two are utterly different works (though there might be audience overlap).

    I’d also note, that this only reinforces the comics=one monolithic genre idea in the mind of the non-comics reader. Which we really need to get away from, sadly.

  2. Lyle Says:

    With Viz, the confusion is compounded by the inclusion of novels. For some reason, bookstores didn’t have a problem shelving Battle Royale (Viz’s first novel, IIRC) with other novels, but I usually see Socrates in Love, Steamboy and Ghost in the Machine novels shelved next to their manga counterparts.

    Now, if mainstream comics had more than one audience, it would be interesting if things were sorted by the target audience, as Japanese comics are… tho’ I guess we see one level of that when publishers shelve the “mature readers” titles elsewhere. (So maybe I’m off on the ‘one audience’ comment.)

    My store is quite confusing because they’re so inconsistent in their organization. Comics are separated by publisher and, somtimes imprint (DC Universe, Wildstorm and Vertigo go on separate shelves, which makes finding Fallen Angel and Hard Time quite difficult because you don’t know where to look) but everything else is fairly hapazard, barring the odd attempts to put like titles together.

    Sigh.

  3. David Oakes Says:

    Ignoring the fact that you gave six (multiple copies=more invesment) very good reasons why a comic shop shouldn’t/shouldn’t bother/can’t rack their comics by genre, I have to take exception with your premise. Every comic shop I have frequented racks childrens’ comics (Archie, Sonic, Batman Strikes!) seperately. (Most of the chain bookstores I have been in give Archie it’s own spinner rack, too.) Nearly all of the shops that carry Adult comics have them off in an isolated area as well. (Though a few try to get by with polybags and post-it notes, and these are big stores that have the space.) DC+Marvel/Other or Superhero/Other are also common if not ubiquitous. And Manga is almost always given it’s own section as well, either hidden in a back corner or promoted heavily as a monolithic block of books right up front. Outside of 7-11, I don’t think I have ever seen all titles simply piled together in one block.

    I think the real question is, why should comic shops rack by genre? Given limited space, limited crossover appeal, and – I’ll be the first to admit it – limited genre diversity in the first place, can a shop really gain anything by dedicating an entire section to “MAZE Agency #2″ and some backlist copies of “TORSO”?

    Or perhaps a better question is why bookstores that carry comics, specifically TPBs, and go through the trouble of racking all their other wares by genre, rack all their comics – and often manga – in one lump group, usually as a vestigal wing of Fantasy/SF?

  4. Johanna Says:

    David, age groupings (all ages, adult) aren’t the same as genre groupings (which might be mystery (ScoobyDoo), romantic comedy (most Archie books), TV tie-in (Simpsons), etc.). That’s a mistake I made earlier. Manga isn’t a genre, either — it’s closer to a format.

    I think bookstores put all comics together for similar reasons to why they put all the audiobooks together — it’s more convenient for customers looking for that format.

    Some newer shops are racking by genre, and they’re doing well with it. I suspect it’s easier to set up a store that way from the beginning instead of trying to redo existing stock into it.

  5. Alex Cox Says:

    Well, as you know, ROCKETSHIP racks by genre, and we’ve been quite successful with it. I’ll address your points one at a time, if you will…

    “1. In comics, the majority of comics stocked by the majority of stores are in one genre, superhero. Why rack by genre if over 80% of your books are in the same one?”

    Superhero books take up about 20% of our shelf space, and we have a pretty darn nice selection of superhero books. They only dominate if you let ‘em!

    “2. In order for a genre racking system to work, you’ve got to know where to find the books. This requires either a computerized tracking system (beyond the scope of many comic stores) or a well-educated staff who can remember in which area each and every book is located. You don’t want to lose a sale because you couldn’t find the book until two days after the customer left.”
    This is an easier fix than you might think. A good POS system can fix it quick, or a robot brain like mine. If you know your product, and pay attention, it shouldn’t ever be a problem. In fact, it seems like it would be easier to find things racked by genre than by say, publisher.

    “3. Many comics don’t clearly fit in one genre, and most genres have fuzzy boundaries. Where do you put the horror/Western? How about the goth soap opera? Or the romantic comedy? Or the superhero mystery?”
    Well, first of all, you can split your stock. But HORROR is a pretty good catch all for a lot of books, for example. So is ALPHA BY AUTHOR for general fiction.

    “4. Books come labeled to help avoid that problem. Many book-format comics have similar labels these days, but stapled comics don’t. Without clear labels, who wants to waste time arguing over whether something best belongs, given the number of new items coming in every week? Or put up with Joe-Bob’s pouting because he thinks that Hellboy isn’t a superhero book?

    We alphabetize monthlies, just to avoid that. And I have yet to see someone get offended by shelving a book. And HELLBOY is clearly a horror book. Or under M for Mignola. ;)

    5. Genre is great for “if you like this, try that”-style cross-selling, but many current comic shop customers buy based on company or creator names and will branch out in those directions instead. They find genre racking an annoyance at best. snip”

    This pre-supposes that one depends on “current comic shop customers”, while the forward thinking retailer (in any market) is looking to the potential customers, of which there are many. Genre shelving makes things easy for the person who is stepping into a comic shop for the first time, and if you want to get comics to as many people in the world as possible, I suggest it highly. I also disagree that “current comic shop customers” find genre racking annoying. That is a strange and broad statement- we have had many comic fans love our shelving style, and no complaints.

    Interesting as always, Johanna. In all my racking/shelving, the first thought is “where will this be easiest to find, for the customers, and the staff”. With that in mind, genre racking makes a lot of sense.

    thanks!

    -a

  6. Johanna Says:

    Thanks for stopping by, Alex — you were one of those newer stores I was thinking of, and you’re a great example of forward thinking that has the potential to transform the market.

  7. Alex Cox Says:

    Well that’s very kind of you.

    I’m just glad that there are sites like this one where ideas like this (and others) can be discussed thoughtfully. Always a good read!

    Thanks!

    -a

  8. Mikester Says:

    One of pal Dorian‘s projects at our shop was genre-racking all our TPs, and it’s worked out quite nicely. We have had the occasional gripe from a customer, like you noted (“Johnny the Homicidal Maniac is in the goth section?”), but it makes things a lot easier.

    Our Hellboy problem is solved by having a separate Hellboy book dump. :)

  9. James Schee Says:

    Two shops in my area have different aproaches.

    One has this huge wall of new releases, that has every title in alphabetical order with no breakup for publisher. They do put the family of titles together, Astonishing X-Men has a spot in the A’s and the X’s. Plus they have a little cardboard sign in with the book that says “New!” so you’ll know what came out that week.

    The other divides DC, Marvel, Image and Other.

    A new shop just opened that I hope to check out, to see how they do things. Yet with a name like Lazy Guy Comics, I don’t hold out much hope.:)

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