Miller: Reluctant Capitalists

Cover of Miller, Reluctant Capitalists

Reluctant Capitalists is a research study of 100 years of American bookselling that explores consumer behaviour and changing bookselling practices.

From the book:

“Aside from classification considerations, the physical arrangement of books has a large impact on browsers’ likelihood of making a purchase. Books displayed face out, rather than spine out, are more likely to be noticed, as are displays with multiple copies of the same title. The mall-based chains were diligent about putting these rules of merchandising into effect—and consequently attracted much criticism for their willingness to stack volumes up in huge piles as if they were so many cans of soup. In defending their style of marketing, the chains claimed that the well-being of the book industry depended on casting aside sentimental inhibitions about treating books like any other commodity. As Barnes & Noble and B. Dalton head Len Riggio stated, “I disagree with the elitists who say we can’t sell books like we sell toothpaste. I think what we should be looking to do is sell more books than toothpaste.” From this perspective, adopting modern merchandising techniques is the means to sell more books, hence increasing profits for the companies involved, and furthering the book-reading habit among the public. In this scenario, everyone wins.”

Reluctant Capitalists: Bookselling and the culture of consumption
University of Chicago Press
Hardback, paperback, ebook, 2007
Laura Miller is assistant professor of sociology at Brandeis University.


1 Commercial culture and its discontents
2 From dry goods merchant to internet mogul: Bookselling through American history
3 Providing for the sovereign consumer: Selecting and recommending Books
4 Designing the bookstore for the standardized consumer
5 Serving the entertained consumer: The multifunction bookstore
6 Bargaining with the rational consumer: Selling the low-cost book
7 The revolt of the retailers: Independent bookseller activism
8 Pursuing the citizen-consumer: Consumption as politics
Appendix: Ownership histories of major American chain bookstores

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