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THE BIG A GETS ‘REAL’
November 9th, 2015 by Clark Humphrey

amazon books 2

Ninety years ago, the world’s largest shop-at-home company expanded into real-world retail in Seattle.

That Sears store lasted until just recently; a victim of large-scale corporate mismanagement.

Now, the world’s currently largest shop-at-home company has expanded into real-world retail in Seattle.

Amazon Books in University Village does not have, as Amazon.com once claimed to have, “Earth’s Largest Selection.” It’s more of a throwback to the days of B. Dalton and Waldenbooks.

Like those chains had been, Amazon Books is highly bestseller driven. Or rather, its stock is driven by two factors. Some are picked because of their actual sales on the Amazon site. Others are picked because of the amount of positive customer comments (and, in the case of new releases, requests) on the site.

It has everything displayed “face out,” not “spine out,” a display tactic already used at airport bookshops. (Even B. Dalton, onetime monarch of shopping-mall bookstores, shelved most of its titles the linear-space-saving “spine out” way.)

Besides further reducing the store’s selection, this shtick makes each title a “featured selection,” just as Amazon’s site gives even the more obscure books their own web pages. Each title on display gets its own display card, quoting from a customer review on the book’s Amazon.com sales page.

It’s cashless; credit and debit cards only.

Prices are the same as on the website, and thus can change even within the same day.

Amazon has kept most of its gazillion other product lines out of the store, with a precious few exceptions. There’s a selection of “Amazon Essentials” (electronics cables, chargers, and earphones). And there’s a display of the company’s house-brand e-readers, tablets, phones, and media players. These are items that really benefit from in-person demonstrations by in-person salespeople.

As a “retail theater experience,” Amazon Books has tall shelves and narrow aisles with plenty of intimate nooks and crannies, like a good bookstore has. There’s no space for live readings or signings; but the lighting is nice n’ subdued, and the shelves seem to be made of real wood.

In short: Amazon Books won’t change anyone’s opinion of the book industry’s current 500-lb. gorilla.

And it’s no replacement for the Barnes & Noble that used to be in U Village; or even for the small indie bookstore that was in the Village before B&N.

If you want a particular book (especially a more obscure one), and you want to possess it today, you’re more likely to find it elsewhere.

If you’re a purist book lover, and you want to browse and discover a title you’d never heard of before, you;ll still prefer the likes of Elliott Bay and the U Book Store.

But as “a clean, well lighted place for books,” it’s decent enough.

And, by devoting so much doting attention to each and every title in its stock, it may actually serious about selling books.

OTHER VOICES:

The PS Biz Journal quotes local indie bookstores as saying Amazon’s real-world outlet doesn’t threaten them.

BuzzFeed jams on Amazon Books as an opportunity to cajole you into supporting your local indie outlet.

A Forbes.com freelance “contributor” says Amazon Books could potentially be a savior of real-world book selling, if its data-driven product stocking reduces the costly returns that have plagued the publishing biz for so long.


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© Copyright 2015 Clark Humphrey (clark (at) miscmedia (dotcom)).