On Bookstores And Conservative Books

goldbergcov.jpgThere’s been a lot of discussion around the blogosphere about the, um, difficulty some brick-and-mortar bookstores seem to have in ensuring that customers can acquire a copy of Jonah Goldberg’s new book, Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning (Amazon sales rank as of this posting: #6). Prof. Reynolds has posted several reader comments to the effect that they had trouble finding a copy of the book even at large chain stores (and, not infrequently, despite the presence of prominent displays hawking left-wing books).

As it happens, someone gave me a Barnes & Noble gift card for Christmas so, for the first time in a long while, I went to a local B&N over the weekend (I used to work for the best locally-owned bookstore in the city before they gave in and sold out to Borders, which I still patronize almost exclusively when I go to a brick-and-mortar bookstore due to the fact that a number of my former coworkers are still employed there and the selection and service remain as excellent as they were back when). I was considering buying Mr. Goldberg’s book, but had not decided, so I looked for a copy.

And I couldn’t find a single one. Anywhere. I looked in New Nonfiction. Nothing. I looked in Current Affairs. Nothing. Politics. Nothing. General Nonfiction. Nothing. At that point, I gave up.

I’d note, however, that there weren’t any displays heavily promoting books from the “other side,” either. In fact, the (smallish) New Nonfiction table wasn’t even completely covered and no stack on it was more than three or four books deep (the former bookstore employee in me recoils at such negligence).*

So I decided to use my gift card on a gaming book I need. Unable to even find any such books, much less the one I was looking for, I asked for assistance. According to their computer system, the store has a section devoted to the subject. It also believes that the store has copies of several such books on an endcap somewhere. Well, to make a long story less long, the service desk employee not only had no idea what I was talking about, she took me to an unrelated section of the store, and neither of us could find either the alleged section or endcap.** In the end, since they offered free shipping, I ordered the book I wanted to be delivered to my home.

The point of all of this is to underscore that, while there are certainly times that bookstore employees decide to make buying a book of which they disapprove harder (as I can certainly attest happens, having seen it firsthand), it nevertheless behooves one to recall Napoleon’s maxim:

Never ascribe to malice that which can adequately be explained by incompetence.

UPDATE (1/18/08): As of this update, the book’s Amazon.com Sales Rank is #1. Prof. Reynolds is giving credit to all the leftie bloggers who slagged the book without reading it.

UPDATE (1/19/08): Thouroughness demands that I make note of the evidence suggesting that my willingness to ascribe the problem to simple incompetence may have been too generous. It’s possible that incompetence and malice are intertwined here. If, however, the book does indeed debut on the New York Times Bestseller List this week, as rumoured, they’ll have little choice but to stock it. And, per the standard policy of most bookstores, to sell it at a discount.

* [EDIT: For clarity, let me add that this store is about the same physical size as the one in which I worked and in which we carried over 100,000 titles. IOW, they aren’t lacking for space. Heck, they have three full shelving units, front and back, of nothing but trade paper manga.]

** Thereby confirming every prejudice I’d ever had about this place since, as an employee of the chain’s local competitor, a customer told me they’d never go back in there after hearing a service desk employee ask another what section would have “Ren-ee Dess-carts'” books in it.

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Dodd Harris
About Dodd Harris
Dodd, who used to run a blog named ipse dixit, is an attorney, a veteran of the United States Navy, and a fairly good poker player. He contributed over 650 pieces to OTB between May 2007 and September 2013. Follow him on Twitter @Amuk3.


  1. Dave Schuler says:

    You don’t live in California by any chance do you, Dodd?

  2. fredw says:

    Blame incompetence. Barnes and Noble has an inventory system where the system says ( for example ) that 5 copies of “Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left …” were sent to the store and are in inventory, but there is no way of verifying their delivery. The five books may be in five different boxes, and no packing information tells you which of the 100 boxes they are in. I had a friend that worked at B&N, and they NEVER had the number of Harry Potter books the inventory indicated and there was no way to tell if they disappeared in the store, on the loading dock, or at the shipper. A Physical inventory is done once a year and the shrinkage is not recognised until that point.

  3. Dantheman says:

    My experience is that B&N tends to have more of the liberal polemics and to display them more prominenently, and Borders more of the conservative ones more prominently displayed, but I can usually find whatever I am looking for with some effort at both.

  4. Dave Schuler says:

    A Physical inventory is done once a year and the shrinkage is not recognised until that point.

    That astounds me. Lots of retail outlets are doing physicals daily these days.

  5. Dodd says:

    You don’t live in California by any chance do you, Dodd?

    No, not any more. All the bookstores discussed here are in Louisville, KY.

  6. Dave Schuler says:

    Ah, Louisville. That’s the first place my Schuler ancestors settled when they arrived here from Switzerland. I visited relatives there often as a kid. I still have lots of Schuler relatives there and in the adjacent areas of Indiana and Ohio.

  7. Anon says:

    Other authors such as Coulter, Hannity, and Limbaugh seem to have no trouble moving plenty of books through these outlets, so I remain unconvinced that there is any systematic attempt to sell fewer conservative books.

  8. Anderson says:

    Probably the employees all took them home to read. “Wow, dude, it turns out Mussolini wasn’t a fascist after all! This guy is SO much smarter than my doofus history teacher.”

  9. My recollection from working at B&N (in 1997) is that each book was scanned when it arrived in the store, so if inventory said we had it it was either on the shelf, on a cart waiting to be shelved, or behind the counter waiting for a customer to pick it up. (If we checked out a hardcover book to read, it would show up in inventory too, but I doubt that would account for more than one copy of a book.)

  10. Joannes Jacobsen says:

    I couldn’t find a single one. Anywhere. I looked in New Nonfiction. Nothing. I looked in Current Affairs. Nothing. Politics. Nothing. General Nonfiction. Nothing.

    Maybe they have placed it in the General Fiction section where it belongs.

  11. Dodd says:

    That opinion is, I presume, based on your having actually read the book. Right?