On a lark, I decided to check up on the two local Barnes & Nobles and see what the state of the SFF sections are like. I was also looking for some film noir in a reasonable price range. No such luck there. One Music & Movies section was almost completely swallowed by Funko Pop figures and their dead-eyed stares.
The second one had a small Buy One Get One stand and look what I found:
It was the only copy I saw in the store, too
The first one was in a tiny suburb with a surrounding population that was of the “Upper Middle Class and Above” class of Liberal. I don't say this as a knock against DA LIBRULS, but to give context. It has a Whole Foods and a Trader Joe's within a quarter mile of each other. Bernie Sanders would love it.
The context is important, because I noticed a subtle but significant shift in SFF shelves. A lot more Witcher novels than before. Way more than I'd ever seen in one place. The Jim Butcher section was bigger. Frank Herbert's Dune series took up half a section and wasn't just the first book anymore. Robert Heinlein's area grew. There's a small patch of Michael Moorcock books. The big, fat Chronicles of Amber omnibus (that I already own) was back in stock. C. J. Cherryh had a big section all to herself. Edgar Rice Burroughs had staked out a little corner with the B&N editions of Tarzan and The Martian Tales Trilogy collection. The Weiss & Hickman Dragonlance Chronicles was on the shelves in a new-er edition. Friggin' Dragons of Autumn Twilight and everything.
Sure, George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series took up an inordinately large section by itself. That's to be expected since the HBO show is still a big deal. But aside from Martin & Gaiman, the only real TradPub big names I was able to recognize were Scalzi and Jemisin. I didn't even see Wendig aside from his Star Wars books.
Here's the kicker: Military Sci-Fi, especially Baen books, had a much bigger presence. In a very politically liberal section of town.
Today I checked out the other one, in a more regular middle class outer ring suburb. Its more rural than the other one and has a wider political demographic.
Similar story. MilSF had a strong presence. Larry Correia had a strong presence. Heinlein's section was bigger. Mercedes Lackey had a big section. John Ringo had a big section/ Warhammer 40K had grown big enough to take up its own shelf. Shelf space that, if you took away the big promotional displays for Star Wars thanks to The Last Jedi, dwarfs the actual Star Wars section of the SFF aisle.
This isn't to say that boring LitFic SFF wasn't there. It is, but in comparison to almost a year ago?
There is variety again.
Its no secret that Barnes & Noble is struggling to stay alive. Selling books keeps it alive. You know what has dedicated, loyal fanbases who buy books? MilSF readers. Tolkien pastiche readers. 40K readers.
While the variety has gotten better than its been in a couple years, early, early SFF still doesn't have much going. The only Pulps are Lovecraft, Howard & Burroughs (arguably the Big Three Pulpsters, but still, I'd lose my mind if I saw Merritt on a B&N shelf).
There's still the problem with boring cover art, but I did find one book that stood out visually. Legacy of the Demon by Diana Rowland, whom I've never heard of before. Its apparently the 8th book in a series, but just look at that cover. A ruined tank in the background, a big angry demon that's been shot a few times, and a lady about to stab a giant cattle prod in its big, dumb demon face. Action! Monsters! Pretty ladies kicking ass! I almost bought it on the strength of a cover with stuff happening on it alone, but the rest of the series has a lot of the standard “Protagonist standing and looking at something intently” that's endemic to the field.
No idea if the series is any good, but bravo, good cover.
Now, I don't think that this is some kind of sea change. I'm not sure if anything can save B&N in the long term aside from big changes in the big publishers, and I don't see that happening.
What makes me consider this as a trend worth noticing, is that in the second store, there was an entire (small) shelf dedicated to Westerns. Westerns. I can't recall ever seeing a Zane Grey book in a Barnes & Noble before. Mark my words, Westerns are quietly creeping back to life.