August 1, 2010

Letter to Borders

To Whom it May Concern:

I am Najela Cobb, I am a college student and an avid reader. I can spend hours in a book store looking at the different titles and stories available for reading. However, as I continue to peruse the store, especially in the Young Adult section, I found that there are an overwhelming number of books that do not reflect the multicultural world that we all live in. Many of these books include white characters and white authors and while there is nothing wrong with these books, I find it increasingly hard to find books that have characters that look like me and my friends. I am African-American and my friends are from many different nationalities. Even though we may have different cultures, we all share one thing in common. We all love to read. More importantly, we all love to recommend each other books that we enjoyed and when we have the money, we typically buy these books. There are a number of talented authors and books that feature characters of various ethnic backgrounds, cultures, colors, races, socioeconomic status and more. The publishers believe in these books, but if the book sellers are not supplying them to store and working on having these books in stock, these books are being lost and their voices are being silenced.

There have been many recent debates and debacles about race in publishing and the most recent is the repackaging of Cindy Pon's book, Silver Phoenix. In this case, the publisher chose to have a very dynamic cover with an Asian model prominently featured. The cover was beautiful and the book is well written. There is no reason for this book not to be sold along side other young adult fantasy novels. However, Borders chose not to carry this book and Barnes and Noble carried limited qualities. This has lead the publishers to believe that this is because of the cover. They are now repackaging this book to look more "appealing" by replacing the Asian model with a White model and making the book look more paranormal. This is saddening. There is no reason why this book and others should have to repackage their covers. This hurts the publishers, this hurts the authors, and most importantly it hurts the reader and your potential customers. Ultimately, this could hurt booksellers in a powerful way.

My belief is that the young adult section of the bookstore should reflect the world we live in with many multicultural books. The economic buying power of minorities is steadily increasing. It would be to the benefit of the bookstore to tap into this burgeoning market by choosing books that accurately portray the clientele of the bookstore. By not choosing books with characters or by authors that are of color, the bookstore is shutting out a entire market of potential buyers. Buyers who would gladly take there business elsewhere to find the book they were looking for.

I am a card carrying Border's customer. I love being able to walk into any Border's and find great customer service and an inviting atmosphere. Unfortunately, books that deserve and have earned the right to be on the shelves are not being stocked. These books often feature people of color. It would be to the benefit of the store to aggressively market these books. There are many people that are simply looking for a good book to read. Many of these books that feature ethnic characters are good books and when they are not prominently featured like some of the more mediocre books, I often wonder why. It would behoove Border's to open up to the growing market of teenagers of color.

I realize that Border's is a business, but it would be beneficial to open up the market for many different kinds of books to displayed. Border's would do well to stock these books and actively promote them. To not do this would be to ignore an entire market of people who are looking for a breath of fresh air in a book market over-saturated with cookie cutter books. To not do so would be shutting out an entire population of people who are ready to buy, read, and enjoy books with characters and authors that look like them. I can speak from experience that I and many people I know are actively on the look out for books that reflects our multicultural world and we also ready to buy them from your otherwise excellent store.

I am looking forward to stepping into my local Borders and seeing  books with characters and authors of color prominently displayed on your shelves. Most importantly, I look forward to buying these books from your chain.  Thank you for your time. If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to e-mail me at ncobb001 at gmail dot com.



MissAttitude said...

Thank you for writing and sharing your letter!

I love the part about shutting out an entire market of people. It's all about the money so appealing to the business side of Borders/B&N is the way to go. Teenagers don't buy that many books but even if we start going to our libraries more, that would help.

Thanks again for the consumer links!

Najela said...

No problem.

Even if teenagers don't buy books, I'm sure their parents might if they saw something their child might like.

No problem about the links either.

Jennifer (An Abundance of Books) said...

This is an excellent post. As an elementary school librarian, I find loads of books representing different backgrounds, ethnicities, etc. But when it comes to the YA market, it just stops.

Najela said...

@Jennifer: Thanks. I wonder why it stops like that. I was just thinking about your comment and I realize that this is a true statement. I have so many multicultural books from my childhood, but hardly any for YA.


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