Bookstore photos, or, am I sticking it to the man in some way?

I had an interesting experience the other day, yo. (I’ve slipped into the habit of tossing a random “yo” into 6 out of every 7 sentences, btw – get used to it.) You may or may not know that the various channels for my probably obsessive and possibly deranged use of social media include Verla Kay’s Blueboards and my Facebook account. One day, lo, many moons ago, I decided to combine them by creating a FB photo gallery of Blueboarder books.

PRINCESS FOR HIRE by Lindsey Leavitt
Does this photo of PRINCESS FOR HIRE really qualify as corporate espionage?

I populate this album by snapping photos in bookstores, which is fun for several reasons: it gives me another excuse to go visit bookstores; it feels like legitimate market research, because I get a sense of what books show up where and so on; and it feels like a way to help publicize other kidlit authors’ and illustrators’ books, which I want to do because I would like to be a contributing member of that community. But this week at a Barnes & Noble location I was asked to cease and desist, which irritated the crap out of me. I had some issues with the way I was asked to stop, but the more important (and interesting) part of it was the subsequent Twitter conversation I had with a few folks, including a well-known agent & bookseller who ran through some of the more comprehensible reasons why a store might have a “no photography” policy. Those reasons included the potential for research into a store’s business strategy and the sneaky tactic of previewing books in the store, only to run off and order them online.

Food for thought, I suppose. I’m not interested in hating on the booksellers, because I’m predisposed to like people who work in bookstores, even if we’re talking about a non-independent entity like B&N. And I also understand that a business like B&N (or any kind of retail location, for that matter) can set this kind of policy if they want to – I’m not the owner of the store, but if I was, I’d probably see it as my right to do so (not that I would, but you get my drift).  I’m also familiar with the experience of cleaving to some larger institutional policy that I may or may not agree with or understand, so I’m doing my best to see things through the eyes of my accusers.  But does this mean I should stop taking pictures of books in bookstores?

That would be a bummer, frankly. I like doing it, for one thing. Another thing is that quite a few of the authors and illustrators whose books I’ve shot pics of have expressed positive thoughts about it, although certainly not all of them. Perhaps there are some who have negative feelings about it but haven’t said so in the interests of being nice? I’m now curious to know. And I confess, there’s one thing that’s become a long-term goal of mine, and that’s to enjoy the moment when I finally add a photo of my OWN shiny, published book to that gallery. There’s no saying when that might be, of course, but really, that would be fun.

I’ve taken photos in dozens of stores over the past year or two, and I’m not covert about it. In fact I tend to be pretty obvious about the whole thing – I’ve snapped pics right in front of Barnes & Noble staffers on many occasions, and I stride manfully through the store with my camera in open view, pretending like I’m a National Geographic photographer as I capture images of these books in their natural, circle-of-life habitat. This is the first time I’ve been questioned, which makes me wonder if the majority of B&N clerks don’t enforce this policy because they don’t know about it or disagree with it.

Booksellers are not the enemy, and there’s no possible way for an in-store clerk to verify that I’m not up to no good with these photos. I don’t want to make life difficult for those people, you know? But I LIKE my little hobby. I LIKE my little photo gallery. I shall ponder on this in the days to come.


P.S. By the by, I gots me a new contest coming up in the next couple of days. An ARC of a really great forthcoming MG novel has been made available as a prize, and since I’ve already read it, you shall have the opportunity to win it, o gentle minions. Look sharp.


13 thoughts on “Bookstore photos, or, am I sticking it to the man in some way?

  1. The book photographer…could be an interesting story here. I wonder what the book photographer will do next, and how he might keep his hobby alive…I look forward to the next update from The Book Photographer!

  2. Thanks Paul! Hmmm…maybe libraries? Those librarians are formidable, though. Plus, most of them are smarter than me…

  3. I’m one of the ones who love to see pics of my books on shelves. Maybe I’m just weird that way 🙂 I live in a very remote area and don’t get to see them on shelves anywhere (and I do mean anywhere since my two local bookstores don’t carry my books) except when I travel to do promo. Sorry you got “in trouble” for doing it Mike, but it has been appreciated! And I, too, often take pics of my friends books (with my phone) if they are just out and I see them in the wild while traveling… will have to be careful in the future!

    1. Which reminds me, Boni, I do have a photo of OVER AT THE CASTLE on my phone. Trouble is, I don’t use my phone for data stuff so I have to *cough* figure out how to get it off there…

  4. I say keep taking photos. I also say I wish there was an easy way to track twitter conversations.

    Now that just about everyone has a camera on them at all times the idea of banning photos in stores is an impossible task. The addition of apps that do comparative shopping is a tough one for brick and mortar stores, no doubt. But that genie is out of the bottle and there’s just no practical way to stop it.

    At a recent writers meeting one member bragged about how she previews books in the store and then buys them for her Kindle while in the store. I can’t even begin to parse all that’s bad about that for both consumers and retailers (unless you’re Amazon!).

    1. The Twitter conversation was pretty brief, Jim, but it was the first time I’d gotten the bookseller perspective on it in any kind of depth. And I’m one of the people who does the opposite of the problematic thing – I research stuff on Amazon in order to buy in indie brick-and-mortars. But yeah, I agree that doing it the other way around is a bad, bad thing, and you’d think writers (of all people) would have a sense of that…

  5. Well! First! On the yo! You know (or should I say yo know!?!) you can overuse certain things!! I know I can!! But yo seems a cool overuse! To me! Yo, !!.

    Hmmm, on the book store issue. It honestly never, never (never!) entered my head that this would be a problem. I work in a big chain book store, and seeing someone taking pictures of covers, well…lol…I would think they were doing exactly what you were doing, OR they were taking a quick pic to remember the title, possibly I guess to get it somewhere else, but really–they be allowed to do that. Usually it’s with their phone. I don’t know Mike, it’s weird…really sorry it happened, too. Sounds like there maybe is a policy (and who knows there might be a possible one at our store), and you’re right-they can make it whatever they want–but there’s also a way to handle, approach, ask, check with the person you approach, ya know? OR-the person who approached did all on their own, assuming you were there breaking copyright, planning on using the photos of covers for profit or something. Which gets back to maybe just approaching you and asking what ya doin’?

    1. Yeah, I do see the value of being completely up front with it and approaching staff first, handing them a card, saying “here’s what I’d like to do,” but I also think you’re on the nose about how someone could approach me. The way the first clerk approached me was to say “are you taking pictures? Of books? You can’t do that! It’s copyright violation. You’re breaking the LAW.” Which got my hackles up, you know? The vibe would have been totally different if they’d said “I’m sorry, it may not make sense to you but B&N’s official policy is no photography in stores,” or something a little more diplomatic.

      1. I agree 120% (and add a few more percents), Mike. _Common courtesy_ was called for, imo. The clerk clearly lacking in that regard.

        Enjoy your week…! And here is to no more rude clerk people.

  6. I LOVED seeing my book in your photo gallery, yo. (BTW, you had only one “yo” in that whole post). I never would’ve thought about the bookstore having a policy against it, but I imagine if you told them WHY, they’d understand.
    Wouldn’t they?

    It brings LOADS of smiles.

    1. Yo Heidi! I imagine most booksellers would, but I don’t think so in this case – they were kind of officious and prissy about it, although to his credit the manager (who I asked to speak to) was less accusatory toward me, and seemed weary in a more general sense. I’m glad you like the photos! That’s the best part of it, you know? When the authors like the photos, yo.

  7. I think you’ve hit on the very best kind of obsession and when you snapped the pic of my very first, very own book on a shelf in a real bookstore . . . well, yo, heart be still.

    I think we should martial our forces–all kidlit people–and bombard that B&N with letters of complaint against the prunes with the cease and desist mentality against pictures. So we can’t take pictures, then should we have our pads and pencils confiscated at the door too, you know, in case, yo, we might take notes and discover their uber sales strategies?

    Remember when that Road Runner tune kept playing in your head? Guess what just happened to the YO in mine. I believe one of my characters will have to say yo at least once each page. Will that book sell?

    1. Yo Lee, that book will SELL. But now that I think about it, you don’t have to jump RIGHT into selling another one, eh? Eh? 🙂

      There IS a kind of scattershot quality to the policy – I could just as easily write down book titles on an index card, yes, or use that iPhone app Susan Taylor Brown told me about.

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