Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Bookstore Review: Whitcoulls Richmond Mall (Nelson)

In the tenth of an irregular series on this blog, I take a look at how well (or not) the Whitcoulls bookstore in the Richmond Mall in Nelson (the largest mall in the top of the South Island of New Zealand) displays, publicises and otherwise supports New Zealand crime and thriller writing instore.

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? Although, as was noted from my brief trip to Germany, some overseas bookstores (e.g. the Koln airport store) may, embarrassingly for bookstores here, be better at supporting top quality Kiwi crime writing than some of their New Zealand counterparts.

So far in my series, the Whitcoulls chain has largely been pretty disappointing, ranging from basically no support (Whitcoulls Wellington airport) to okay-ish but needs big improvement (Whitcoulls Queen Street), with an occasional semi-bright spot (Whitcoulls Courtenay Place in Wellington). So it was with some trepidation and not particularly high hopes that I walked into Whitcoulls Richmond Mall on a cloudy Saturday 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 wall, and also the ‘bargain tables, were crime/thriller titles), and is rather small-ish in size overall, restricting the number of titles they can carry.
  • Surprisingly there were no copies of one of the latest New Zealand crime titles, Alix Bosco's CUT & RUN, which has received good reviews and had actually been one of the few books reasonably well-stocked in many of the other bookstores previously reviewed (POOR);
    There were a couple of copies of Dorothy Fowler's WHAT REMAINS BEHIND in the A-Z section, spine-facing (GOOD);
  • There did not seem to be any copies of Lindy Kelly's BOLD BLOOD, even though it was a #1 bestseller last year, stayed in the top 5 for several weeks, and Kelly is a local (Nelson region) author (POOR).
  • Andrea Jutson’s SENSELESS (1 copy) and Liam McIlvanney’s ALL THE COLOURS OF THE TOWN (2 copies) were available in the A-Z section (GOOD);
  • There was a Neil Cross book in stock, but perhaps surprisingly it wasn’t his latest (last year’s BURIAL), but his older Booker long-listed title ALWAYS THE SUN (GOOD);
  • There was also a copy of Michael Green's BLOOD BOND in the A to Z section (GOOD);
  • There were no copies of any Joan Druett, Vanda Symon, or Paul Cleave, title, although the staff I spoke to did say Vanda Symon’s CONTAINMENT had been in stock but they’d just sold out (and would presumably be getting more), and that they’d also had THE RINGMASTER in stock, but that had been purchased recently too. From memory, I have seen copies of Symon's THE RINGMASTER in the A to Z section of that same store earlier last year (POOR/OKAY);
So overall, Whitcoulls Richmond Mall was one of the better Whitcoulls stores thusfar, stocking books from five different Kiwi crime/thriller writers, and also usually stocking at least one other. Could they improve? Yes - there was no stock of some recent crime thrillers, including from a #1 bestselling local writer. There were also some glaring omissions (Joan Druett, Vanda Symon – if temporarily, Alix Bosco) which have been well-stocked in some Whitcoulls stores elsewhere. I also had to look pretty hard to find the Kiwi crime titles, which were all spine-facing and not highlighted in any way. There was also no mention of Vanda Symon’s CONTAINMENT in any ‘Top 5’ Kiwi books etc, even though the book had been in the Top 5 bestseller list very, very recently.
But given the small size of the store (about 1/3 the size of the Courteney Place Whitcoulls, and only about 10-15% the size of Whitcoulls Queen Street) they are doing pretty well. The staff also seemed quite aware, and enthusiastic, about some of the Kiwi authors. Whitcoulls Richmond Mall, especially given their small size, 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 Richmond Mall, I give them 3.5 out of 5. Good work, but has the potential to do even better. Thoughts?

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