Visiting a Book Store

Yesterday I was in a Chapters store (small aside, Chapters is the largest chain of book stores in Canada, and sells approximately 80% of all books purchased in this country) just taking a look around (as I so often do) to see if there was anything interesting on the shelves. During this visit I wandered among several sections and noticed the following rationing of floor space assigned to each of the following topical catagories:

Philosophy: 1 section
New Age: 2 sections
Astrology: 2 sections
Wicca/Witchcraft:1 section
Religion: 1/2 section
Bibles, and Bible Commentaries: 1 section
Christianity: 1 section
Judaism and Islam (interestingly put together): 1 section split evenly between the two religions
Buddhism: 1 section

As nearly as I could tell no other religions (Hinduism included, which if it had any titles they appeared to have been lumped in with the books on Buddhism) were given their own section(s). Moreover, in the Christianity section the titles were literally soup to nuts theologically speaking, with characters like Michael Drosnin, Joyce Meyers and T.D. Jakes side by side with C.S. Lewis, Philip Yancey, John Paul II and Billy Graham.

Now, in Canada it is a statistical fact that 43.6% of all Canadians self identify as Catholics, and another 33.5% or so tell Stats Canada that they are a Christian of some sort. Jews and Muslims make up aboout 1% and 2% respectively, and no other religious group makes up more than 1%. Finally, the "no religious affiliation" group represents approximately 16.5% of the population.

On the surface there is obviously some kind of incongruity in seeing books on Wicca/Witchcraft enjoying as much shelf space as all of those discussing Judaism and Islam combined, or those that were classified as "Christian." It even enjoys the same shelf space as all of the philosophy books Chapters cares to stock. And Astrology and New Age enjoy twice the shelf space of all of any of these categories (to be candid, I had difficulty in understanding what made a book "New Age" vs. "Astrology" or even "Wicca", as the titles often appeared to reflect the same subject matter, and all three subjects were helpfully set side by side, but I digress). And how does Buddhism merit the same shelf space as Judaism and Islam put together, or all of Christianity (minus the Bible)?

Don't get me wrong. I am not blaming Chapters for this inconguity. They are in business to make money, so they are going to stock those books that sell. And very obviously, books on New Age, Astrology and Wicca sell. But why is this? We live in an age of scientific enlightenment, yet the subject matter of these books are rooted in superstition and neo-paganism. Clearly the "answers" provided by science are not satisfying the desires of the book buying public, at least not those who live in Canada (I would be interested if similar stats bear out in Barnes & Noble, as we do not have this chain up here, so I could not investigate). Likewise, the "answers" of Christianity, Judaism and Islam do not satisfy either. Hinduism boasted insufficient titles to be granted more than sub-section status within Buddhism, so it must not offer satisfactory "answers" to life's questions either. Finally, philosophy from Socrates to Satre could barely produce enough saleable titles to outnumber those of Wicca.

How much should we make of this? Right now the question is mostly rhetorical for me, as I honestly do not know what to make of it. People are clearly still searching for meaning in their lives. So far as the book buying masses are concerned, the atheism of Nietzsche, Marx, Schopenhauer, Santayana and Russell holds little or no appeal. But Christianity, Islam and Judaism fair little better (especially if they are of the more orthodox variety. Kabbalah, for example, dominated almost half the Judaism section).

I make no arguments here (for now). I offer only my observations and questions, and shall have to think on this some more. I would, however, like to know if others, perhaps have been pondering them as well.



Weekend Fisher said…
In my local Barnes & Nobles, there are similar things going on ... Hinduism fares a little bit better, being in more of an "Eastern Religions" section. The titles on Christianity are somewhat split between sections labeled "Christianity" and "Christian Inspiration." The "Christian Inspiration" section is largely the Christian titles, some of which are not exactly what I'd classify as "Inspirational." The "Christianity" section (which you have to walk through to get to the "Christian Inspiration" section) is not quite entirely dominated by Jesus-Seminar types but there's a noticeable preponderance of anti-Christian books in the section labeled "Christianity". Many Christian books down here are now sold through specialty Christian bookstores. They do sell but have been nearly ghetto-ized out of the general bookstores. Btw I hear that most best-seller lists don't include sales from Christian bookstores, leading to a steady underrepresentation of the true interest in Christian titles. Considering the open hostility to Christianity in many places, it's natural to wonder whether that's all entirely accidental.

I think "what sells" is one factor, "what publishers push" is another factor; and "novelty" is always a draw at bookstores so anything strange or odd but still interesting is likely to get shelf-space. What people are looking for is likely to be varied. Some of what sells is what people want to hear, and some people want to hear that Christianity is evil and baseless, or "patriarchal" and outmoded, or any other reason to dismiss it, demonize it, or ignore it.
Layman said…
Interesting observations Nomad and WF.

I would only add that there are many entire bookstores devoted entirely to Christianity werheas there are many fewer devoted to Buddhism, Judaism, and even the New Age and Astrology.
Layman's point is a good one.
Marketing in the book world is still largely a mystery to me, but it may well be the case that Christian books have a different distribution channel in Canada than the big, generic chains. I'd also bet that the selection of Christian books differ too.

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