Friday, November 13, 2009

Bookstore Review: Whitcoulls Courtenay Place (Wellington)

In the eighth of an irregular series on this blog, I take a look at how well (or not) the Whitcoulls bookstore on Wellington’s popular thoroughfare Courtenay Place, publicises and otherwise supports New Zealand crime and thriller writing in-store.
As I said in the first bookstore review on 25 August, there are many many things, other than the quality of a book, that can play a big part in how successful it, or its author, may be in terms of sales, readership, mainstream media coverage, and potentially interested readers even becoming aware of it/them. There are so many books out there, and so many good and great authors and titles amongst them, that many haven't received the success or attention they deserve.

While many things can't be controlled, some can - so with this series, I will be 'mystery shopper-ing' some New Zealand bookstores, examining how well (if at all) they highlight, display, or otherwise offer NZ crime fiction to their customers. After all, if our own bookstores don't support local crime writing, how can we expect overseas ones to?

So far the Whitcoulls chain has been disappointing, ranging from basically no support (Whitcoulls Wellington airport) to okay-ish but needs big improvement (Whitcoulls Queen Street)So it was with some trepidation and low hopes that I walked into Whitcoulls Courtenay Place on a fine Sunday afternoon last weekend. Here are some of my findings:

  • This Whitcoulls store didn’t have a dedicated crime section (although a very large percentage of the fiction A-Z was crime/thriller), but did have a dedicated New Zealand fiction section.
  • Alix Bosco’s CUT & RUN, Dorothy Fowler's debut, WHAT REMAINS BEHIND, Paul Cleave's CEMETERY LAKE (1 copy), and Vanda Symon’s THE RINGMASTER were all available in the NZ section (GOOD/GREAT)
  • Andrea Jutson’s SENSELESS (1 copy) and Liam McIlvanney’s ALL THE COLOURS OF THE TOWN were available in the A-Z section
  • The NZ section was very good overall, with a great selection of NZ writers often not seen elsewhere. In terms of crime/thrillers, this was also the first store in which I’d noticed MIRAMAR MORNING by Denis Edwards, and ROCKING HORSE ROAD by Carl Nixon (GOOD GREAT), although the Nixon book is no longer in stock, since I bought the one copy. There were multiple copies of Edwards’ book, so there are still some left after my visit. (GOOD/GREAT)
  • There were also plenty of books from authors like Charlotte Grimshaw and Maurice Gee, who have written some crime/thriller-type books, amongst their others (OKAY/GOOD)
  • There were no copies of Joan Druett, Paddy Richardson, Michael Green, or Neil Cross books – the latter being particularly egregious considering he’s a Wellington-based author with a strong backlist, including a Booker-long-listed novel, and has received some decent media coverage this year (POOR);
  • However, Michael Green’s latest, BLOOD BOND, was showing in their computer as arriving in-store 15 November (OKAY); and
  • There were no copies of Lindy Kelly’s BOLD BLOOD, even though it was a #1 bestseller earlier this year, and stayed in the top 5 for several weeks (POOR).

So overall, Whitcoulls Courtenay Place was by far the best of the Whitcoulls stores thusfar, having 1-2 copies of at least one book in stock from several Kiwi crime writers. And they had books from a couple of writers I hadn't seen available elsewhere. Could they improve? Yes - there was no stock of some recent crime thrillers, including from an acclaimed local writer. They only had one copy of one Paul Cleave book (rather than Borders who had multiple copies of all three), and only one of Andrea Jutson and Vanda Symon's books, rather than both. There were also some glaring omissions (Joan Druett, Lindy Kelly) which have been well-stocked elsewhere. They could also do a bit better with highlighting some of the New Zealand books, which are kind of tucked away.
Whitcoulls Courteney Place is already doing well in a relative sense, but by doing a few more little things, they could really make a difference and help out the reading public in terms of exposing them to great crime writing, that just happens to be written by locals.
So overall for Whitcoulls Courtenay Place, I give them 3.5 out of 5. Good work, but has the potential to do even better. Thoughts?

1 comment:

  1. I find it interesting that you've found such variety in what Whitcoulls carries. That's really useful to know, I'm sure, as one can't count on finding something one's seen in one Whitcoulls in another.