It seems like the ultimate reversal. The online giant whose presence has driven brick and mortar bookstores out of business…has opened a brick and mortar bookstore, and may open more.
Publisher’s Weekly posted an article today taking readers into the Amazon Books brick and mortar store located in Seattle opposite the University of Washington campus. And at first glance, it looks like…a bookstore. Apart from a center section where one can purchase the various Amazon devices, most of the store is filled with books. Pictures I’ve seen portray a clean, visually appealing layout. But there are some differences:
- Inventory. Amazon Books has about 5,000 to 6,000 books in stock, far less than the giant Barnes & Nobles stores.
- Presentation. All books are face out rather than spine out, one reason for fewer titles.
- Recommendations. Every book comes with a placard below it with its Amazon rating, a customer review and the number who have rated it.
- Pricing. No prices appear on or below the book. Pricing varies just as it does online at Amazon. To find the price of a book, you either need to scan its barcode with the Amazon app on your phone, check it at a kiosk in the store, or get an associate to assist you.
- Stocking. Amazon bases its stocking on book ratings and sales figures. Only books rated 4.0 or higher are stocked.
In this store at least, the strongest categories are children’s, young adult, best sellers, and genre fiction but there are also graphic novels, and a shelf of local authors.
Obviously I have not visited this store and so am judging it on the accounts of others (it just opened to the public on Wednesday). My first impression is that it strikes me as a more sophisticated version of the bookstores one finds in major airports. This sounds like a place to find the books most people are reading as quickly as possible, and perhaps learn of some books you hadn’t heard of through the tags with customer reviews. My hunch is that this will appeal to many people. Not so much to me, perhaps, but then I’m a bit eccentric in reading tastes!
Some things I’m not sure I like about this:
- Hanging so much on Amazon reviews. This is a flawed system (see my post on “Of Sockpuppets and Fake Reviews“). Until Amazon cleans this up (including tough penalties for sellers as well as fake reviewers) I suspect that some worthy titles will never find a space on their physical shelves and others will that might actually be trash. Hopefully, some latitude will be given to people who know books and not just to heuristics.
- It occurs to me that having to use a phone app to check pricing gives Amazon a whole new source of data about their customers. Might be worth checking what that app has access to!
- I know this doesn’t matter to many people, but will it have a personality? Or will it have the personality of a fast-food operation–efficient but soulless? It is encouraging that they do seem to be featuring local writers.
- Most of all, what many of us like about the indie stores and used bookstores is the chance to discover an unusual title, maybe in a less popular genre, or a book that is backlist or out of print of real merit. It doesn’t sound like I will find such books at Amazon Books (though possibly online).
My hunch is that Amazon will quickly figure out how to make this a pleasant and efficient experience for those who frequent the store. And I understand that you will be able to use online credits on your Amazon account in the store. I do wonder how their associates will handle it when they discover customers who treat the store as a showroom, but decide to buy their books online, or reserve them at their library! Amazon may finally find out what it is like to be in the shoes of the other guys. At the same time, if I were the other guys, I’d be watching what they do well and upping my game.