What a Dump!

Josie Leavitt - October 28, 2009

Displays, provided by publishers, can be a cash cow for any store. We call these displays "dumps" (if anyone knows why, I’d love to know) and generally they’re a good way to sell books you love without having to handsell them to everyone who walks in. The mere act of having a display in a small store sends a message to your customers that you want them to notice this book, to pay attention to it and ultimately, to buy it.

Dumps haven’t changed much in the 13 years I’ve had the Flying Pig. They are cardboard and designed to hold from nine to 48 books in a free-standing display. The only thing I’ve really noticed is they’re not as big or difficult to put together as they once were. I remember Swine Lake by James Marshall came with a display that was so hard to put together I actually had two of my savvy teen customers put it together — it took them three hours, but when they were done, there was a stunning theatre that nestled the book within it. Pretty cool, but it was so big it took up a whole aisle. There’s nothing more frustrating than getting a display of a hot new book and it takes an hour to set it up. Luckily, most displays are not that hard to assemble these days.

While the displays aren’t as big, there seems to be this new trend of taking a display with a small footprint and surrounding it with with cardboard on the sides or the bottom. The purpose of this eludes me. The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown came in a display that held 12 books in an unobtrusive way, but it has this wraparound piece on the bottom, which, by the way, is not where people look for information about the book, that keeps falling out, tripping people trying to get by and generally looks bad because it just doesn’t fit that well. It’s a good thing the book is so eye-catching or no one would notice it.

The Magician’s Elephant display is great in that it holds a large number of books in a seemingly small display, but it’s encased with these side flaps that make it enormous and cumbersome. And it’s actually sort of funny that the book itself is slim and lovely and the display is HUGE. 

The one for Julie Andrews’ Collection of Poems, Songs, and Lullabies works really well for several reasons. First, the display has a small footprint throughout. This book begs to be looked at and this display has a shelf that allows the you really look at the book with a place for the extra copies in the display. And, bless Little, Brown for giving you a display copy with the dump. Doing this is so smart, and publishers should take note of this. If you want your books to sell and they are either pop-up or gorgeous art books, give me an extra copy so customers can brutalize only one book before they buy one of the pristine copies.

Displays with side pieces that fit inside the boxes where the books sit is a bad idea. The reason these don’t work is the inside cardboard makes it tight to get the books out, often causing damage getting the books in or out of the display. I actually took the side flap off the Catching Fire display because it was killing the books.

The display itself needs to be strong enough to hold the books without tearing or sagging. The Runaway Doll display was great-looking, but the books were too heavy for it and after a short time the middle box just sort of ripped from the main display and couldn’t hold much of anything.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days does everything right. First of all it’s bright, bright yellow and therefore hard to miss. Most dumps tend to be either red or black and for some reason they tend not be noticed as easily. Headers that are eye-catching and informative and tall rather than wide generate traffic to a display and they need to fit well in the display. The Wimpy Kid display info is on the top, where the eye looks for info, not on the bottom or the side. Lastly, the display holds a ton. This dump hold 48 books easily. And really, how else is any store going to display 48 books in a neat and appealing way?
There are many great things about displays. They allow you to showcase a book you love without rearranging the store. They hold all the copies of the book you think you’re going to sell without needing storage. You are highlighting a book you love and letting your customers know that you think it’s wonderful.  But as a bookseller you need to help the display. Refill the display as soon as it needs it. Nothing looks worse than a display designed for 12 books with only one book on the bottom. Take care of the displays. If they start looking ratty, get rid of them. Coordinate with the folks who do the buying and resist the urge to get every display the publishers offer. Too many displays can make a store look really cluttered and uninviting.

I think of every dump as an extension of my store. They are like adding a whole shelf to a section, and if used correctly, a good display of a hot book can make you money for months.

9 thoughts on “What a Dump!


    I am not sure this is correct, but I was told that these display units were called “dumps” because they were temporary and were to be dumped at the end of the campaign.

  2. Andrea

    We get tons of dumps into our store, and I must say that they are the bane of my existence! They’re unwieldy, the cause of many a cardboard cut which is like a paper-cut magnified by a million, and many times I feel as if I need to have an engineering degree to be able to put them together. Yes, they do a pretty nice job of displaying and promoting a book, but in my opinion they are more trouble than they’re worth. They clutter up the store, trip up both customers and booksellers, and use space that I would rather use for other things. And don’t get me started on standees.

  3. kidzbkcrusader

    The life for “dumps” is really short (particularly for the big box chain stores). I used to work for one of these stores. Sometimes the dump didn’t even make it to the floor and was automatically thrown out. Other times it was soon destroyed by customers and dumped. Best case scenario it remained standing for a month before thrown in the dumpster.


    Thank you Josie, for shining the spotlight on book displays. We’re the manufacturer of the yellow “Diary of A Wimpy Kid: Dog Days displays and are appreciative that you liked our display and realize the book marketing knowledge that goes into it’s creation. Our three key management team members have over 100 years of combined knowledge in creating and manufacturing book displays that really do help sell books at retail. It’s always great to hear from a bookseller who likes our products. A good display with a great header stops customers in their tracks to pick up the book and examine the jacket. Once the book is in the customer’s hands, the book will sell itself to the interested customer. We advocate using high quality displays for many reasons. Booksellers spend a lot of money on their stores; publishers spend a lot of money on the book jackets, so why buy a cheap, flimsy temporary fixture that looks bad. So many of the displays that I see in stores are made with lower quality corrugated, printed with ink that rubs off, or the displays collapse because the weight of the books was not considered. If the display takes up too much space, you’ll never put it up in your store. And you’re right, a poor quality display will not serve it’s intended purpose and will be disposed of quickly. We design and manufacture our high quality products in our own New Jersey factory (not overseas) and have been providing them to publishers and booksellers for over twenty years. The paper cut issue also relates to poor quality manufacturing. All of our displays have “turned” edges, so there are no exposed sides to cut anybody’s hands. Yes, it takes more corrugated material to make them, but the displays are stronger and booksellers are happier. And our displays are all designed to be shipped with books inside so assembly is simply squaring up the base, putting the tray on it, and inserting the header. Quick and easy. Most publishers know that it takes the same amount of effort to sell a display of 12 books as it does to sell one book to a retailer. While not every book belongs in its own display, many titles would sell better if they were displayed at the end of the aisles or near the cash/wrap area. Sometimes counter displays are equally successful in displaying and selling books, but clutter – as you point out – is an issue that each retail bookseller must address individually. By the way, they’re called “dumps” because before we introduced this small footprint style book display – that shows the book jacket – (circa 1980), books were “dumped” into temporary corrugated boxes for sale at the end of an aisle. This kind of display “dump” is still being used for other kinds of products in grocery and drug stores today, but books are primarily sold on shelves or in book displays. I welcome any and all comments, through this blog or directly to my email, edevos@bookdisplays.com.

  5. sherry Moss

    The display itself needs to be strong enough to hold the books without tearing or sagging. The Runaway Doll display was great-looking, but the books were too heavy for it and after a short time the middle box just sort of ripped from the main display and couldn’t hold much of anything. Guess this ended up in the “dump”?

  6. Anon.

    When you buy a 48 book Wimpy Kid Display, are you paying the same for the 48 books as if they came in an ordinary carton. Or are you paying an additional premium that reflects the cost of the display?

  7. Eric DeVos

    Publishers use displays to promote their books so customers in retail stores see the book jackets. Books in displays sell 30% faster according to our bookstore surveys. The cost of the display is absorbed by the publisher because of the quantity discount for the number of books in the display. Occasionally, a publisher will offer a free display with a full case of books – which would be used to refill the display.


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