A new Borders bookshop opened near me. Just for fun, I decided to look at their Russian books section (in original Russian). I expected to find none. The result was much stranger.
There were two books on the shelf. One was something non-memorable. The other one, however, was Nobokov’s translation of Alice in Wonderland. So, what’s the problem? Nabokov is well known and Alice in Wonderland is always a great read in any language.
The problem is that Nabokov wrote this book using old Cyrillic alphabet that has letters not in use since 1918. I remember being told of those letters as part of school education, but have never met anyone actually able to read a book using them.
So, given that the book can only be read by researchers studying old Russian, why would Borders chose to use its shelf space for it? Was it trying to out-compete Amazon in the long-tail strategy? Not likely. My guess is that somebody in Borders’ sales office was tasked with chosing Russian titles to put on display and - not knowing any Russian - decided that one cannot go wrong with Nabokov/Alice.
The funny thing is - I was tempted to buy the book, exactly because it was such a non sequitur in the context of maximising profit in the already-failing physical bookstore business. So, maybe this was a brilliant decision after all, given the lack of shelf space to appeal in any other way.
I just wish I knew what really happened there.