Who would be foolish enough to open a new brick-and-mortar bookstore in the Age of Amazon? How about…

Who would be foolish enough to open a new brick-and-mortar bookstore in the Age of Amazon?  How about…

Amazon! 😉

I first saw the story that Amazon was opening a brick-and-mortar bookstore in this

The Seattle Times story by Jay Greene

during my morning

Flipboard (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)


Subsequent to flipping it into my Flipboard magazine, I saw a bunch of stories on it…and one of my regular readers and commenters, Lady Galaxy, alerted me to it a well.

That makes sense…it just seems so odd that Amazon would open a physical bookstore, at least at first blush.

There is this mythology (I don’t mean to make a judgement as to whether it’s true or not…just that there is a large set of beliefs) that Amazon has been killing physical bookstores. Why would that move into that market?

Well, I’m a former brick-and-mortar bookstore manager (and I think I can reasonably say a successful one), and I might be able to give you some insight.

First, I’ve been saying all along that physical bookstores can succeed, nay, thrive in this environment.

That doesn’t mean every physical bookstore.

The big stores that had volume as their main draw…those are doomed. You can’t compete with Amazon on volume with a  physical store.

You can compete with them on experience.

Maybe that will change some day, when we have more robust virtual reality, but for now, there is something in the real world that online shopping doesn’t replicate.

Physical bookstores can, and do, succeed when people will happily pay more money than they would online, because they want to support the store.

That requires that the store has personality and is unique and that, yes, the customers trust the store.

Amazon can do that with “Amazon Books”.

The store will be informed by the website…cards will have online reviews, and at least some categories will be based on the website (“4.5 stars and above”).

However, there is a second, and really important point.

Amazon doesn’t need the physical store to make a profit.

It’s a showcase, not the whole floor.

One of the things they say they are going to do is “face” all of the books…that is, you’ll be able to see the cover on every book, not just the spine.

Quite simply, that’s a lot more expensive.

You are fighting three main things in a physical bookstore:

  • Rent
  • Salaries
  • “Shrinkage” (shoplifting, employee theft, and damage)

You are paying a lot more rent to sell a give title by having it faced. Of course, you can have more copies of a faced book…you might be able to have it four deep. Four spined books might take up the spot of one faced book.

If you want to have a lot of titles, though, you might traditionally only have one or two copies of some of them. That’s where spining books is cheaper.

Amazon is going to have a relatively small store with everything spaced, and a lot fewer titles than, say, a Barnes & Noble…but each one treated more lovingly (with more attention paid to it).

Shopping there (the store is in Seattle) will probably be one of those great experiences I mentioned. The employees will know the books well, in part because there won’t be as many of them, in part because they’ll have more data about them.

It’s going to be such a teeny tiny part of the business, though, that it will be freed of any requirement to make a profit. In a way, it will be like premium cable versus broadcast TV: a much smaller audience without the pressure of ratings.

With all of that said, I also won’t be shocked if Amazon does make a profit on this. Part of that will be their skill at inventory chain management. Yes, they sell out of things at the holidays, but their expertise with shipping  (including using robots in the fulfillment centers) will make a huge difference.

Update: what about pricing? It’s the same as the website! NPR (which I was hearing in the Flash Briefing on our Amazon Echo (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*) did a piece on it…and it sounded like an employee was suggesting that a customer use a SmartPhone to pull up the price on a book in the store (presumably, by scanning the UPC…Universal Product Code…or something similar). That’s one of the challenges for the prices being the same as at the website. Prices at the website vary rapidly…if you have price stickers on the books, how are you going to update them? Do people just not know for sure what the price is  until you are going to ring them up? Presumably so…

It’s a fascinating experiment! I think it’s really a pilot…if it succeeds, you might get an Amazon Books in your town. 🙂

Update: Reader Malcolm Northrup mentioned that a trip to Amazon Books in Seattle was possible, and I thought it would be great to get a field report! That goes for any of you who go to Amazon Books. I thought I’d add a few particular questions here, if you happen to notice:

  • How was the Customer Service? Did staff answer any questions for you?
  • Was there free wi-fi? (You would think they would have it, since this is at least partially a showcase for the website)
  • What categories of books were towards the front of the store? Which ones were in the back?
  • How was the stock level? Were there “wishing wells” of stacks of books on the floor? How many copies of a book were on a shelf?
  • What advantages did you see in this store versus other bookstores? Technology, for example?

Update: this

Publishers Weekly article by Rob Salkowitz

gives us more insight into the store itself.

One of the big questions for me was how they would deal with the fluctuating prices, since the physical store prices are the same as the web prices. Repricing books (with sticker guns) was a big burden when I managed a brick-and-mortar bookstore many years ago. Well, the books don’t have prices like that on them: you use your SmartPhone, and if you don’t have one, an associate helps you.

Update: Amazon Books homepage (at AmazonSmile*

What do you think? If an Amazon Books opened in your town, would you visit it? What would make it attractive enough to make you to return to it? What impact will it have on other bookstores? Feel free to tell me and my reader what you think by commenting on this post.


Join thousands of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.


10 Responses to “Who would be foolish enough to open a new brick-and-mortar bookstore in the Age of Amazon? How about…”

  1. Edward Boyhan Says:

    Irony anyone? 😀

    Honestly, I can’t see any real business reason for doing this. As you say the cover facing out will severely limit inventory.

    Maybe this is meant to be like the lobbies of many corporations where showcases of their products can be found — like Intel displaying a bunch of their recent microprocessors?

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Edward!

      On your last point, I think that’s exactly what it is. It’s not intended to be a profit generator (even though Amazon 2.0 has been making a profit, which they didn’t do for more than a decade, I believe). It’s both symbolic and a showcase. Amazon has already said they are fine with people “showcasing” in the store: looking at the book there and then buying it (from Amazon) online.

      On your first line: I remembered this story from back when the Orwell thing happened with Amazon…


      I slightly misremembered the headline, but it’s still a good line. 😉

  2. alanchurch Says:

    Sent from my iPad


  3. Malcolm Northrup Says:

    I think this is directed at the reader who is using eBooks but still values the hardback or premium paperback. I would certainly go often to a store in my area and since I have family in the Seattle area I’ll will definitely go by that store next visit!

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Malcolm!

      If you do go, I’d be very interested in your feedback!

      Your comment has inspired me to add a few questions into my post…if you get a chance to look at it again before you go, you should see them.

  4. Tom Semple Says:

    A physical bookstore does not interest me (even if they copied B&N’s free wifi reading of any ebook when visiting), but I think Amazon knows people still want to buy ‘traditional’ books and sees an opportunity to sell them in locations which have become too expensive for B&N to have a storefront, yet still have a lot of pedestrian traffic. Combine that with ability to do same day delivery for any books they don’t stock in the store, and it could work well for them. There’s no evidence that they are putting little print on demand machines in there, but maybe that is in the works as well.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Tom!

      The Print on Demand thought is interesting! I may try to follow up on that with them…

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