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Random Thoughts: Bookstores – The “Teen” Section

One of the things I will miss about Borders closing is that they were kind enough to call the section of their store with YA reads a “Young Adult” section. Barnes & Noble, however, calls it their “Teen” section – at least the Barnes & Noble stores I frequent – and I believe all their stores are consistent in their naming.

The books are classified as “Young Adult” so it would only make sense for the areas of the stores to follow suit. (Although, both online bookstores label them “Teen.”)

Now, I’m not throwing this out there to argue the semantics between teens and young adults. It’s really much more of personal issue for me.

When I walk into Borders and see that young adult section I gravitate toward it. (Yes, they are typically closer to the front of the stores I frequent, but that’s neither here nor there.) I love reading young adult books in every genre. (Hey, I can even say I like historical young adult fiction now – thank you Saundra Mitchell.) And I love to look at all their wonderful covers and display tables to see what I might have missed while browsing online. These days I can’t leave a bookstore without buying something, and I almost exclusively read my books in eBook format.

But psychologically I feel far more comfortable wandering into the young adult section than I do the teen section of a bookstore. I am not a teen, and many would not consider me a young adult.

These books, as I’ve so often heard, aren’t really books for young adults – they’re for readers of all ages – they just have content geared toward readers of certain ages. And I completely understand separating these books out from adult fiction. If I were a young adult I might not want to have to sift through adult reads or accidentally happen upon something inappropriate for my age and vice versa.

Photo credit: Publishers Weekly

But when I walk into a section marked teen, knowing I’m not a teen, I feel a bit like a creeper. I don’t have children but I often think I’d like to bribe one to come with me so I don’t feel so out of place browsing the books I love to read. (Although bribing young children is probably a whole other level of criminal activity I don’t want to know about.)

I also feel like a shoplifter when walking into the teen section at Barnes & Noble. There is a blanket of guilt that descends upon me as I step ever closer to those “teen” books. I imagine all eyes upon me wondering what the heck I’m doing there – like they do to those browsers who visit the “adult” magazine section at the store. I almost want to fake a call to a make-believe child so that people will think, “Ahh, she’s a mom.”

Perhaps no one is staring or caring, but that certainly doesn’t stop me from taking furtive glances around to see. And when I grab my pile I hide those spines as I make my way to checkout, as I find that when waiting in line other readers can’t help but snoop and often comment about what I’m opting to purchase. And when I reach the counter I try to avoid all eye contact with the clerk while he rings up my sale and asks for my membership card. I want to say, “Hey, I’m a reviewer,” although I’m not sure how much better I feel for being a non-teen reviewer.

Do I feel the same way at Borders? No. By calling it a young adult section my mindset is completely different. I am a “young at heart” adult so I feel comfortable browsing those shelves. Do I feel young? Yes. Am I an adult? Yes. So this section could apply to me. I just wonder how many sales are lost by categorizing a section as “Teen” versus “Young Adult.” The books aren’t typically called teen reads anymore so why should the bookstore sections?

All I know is that friends my age, and those slightly younger or older, all enjoy reading YA. It is a state of mind, and a preference for reading material that is utterly enjoyable, without all the issues that face twenty-somethings, thirty-somethings and up, as I’ve previously discussed in my “Why YA?” post. So, it’s just a tad unfortunate that we all have to feel like we’re doing something wrong when stalking the “Teen” section at Barnes & Noble.

I am not looking to start a revolution here – I am not from the picketing, boycotting generation. I just think from a marketing standpoint it might pay to rethink the “Teen” label to open up the books to a wider audience in stores. After all, it’s those individuals who are no longer in their teen years that are generally paying for books – whether for themselves or their children or grandchildren. (When I was a teen I had very little money to buy books and unless my parents were paying I didn’t buy any.)

Just imagine how a simple name change might affect sales when those plus twenty-somethings or plus thirty-somethings are made to feel comfortable browsing and buying in stores at full retail versus at online discount retailers. Sounds like a WIN to me.

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