Amazon: the Bricks & Mortar-ing

Well, the inevitable has happened – Amazon is opening Amazon Books, a Brick & Mortar test store in Seattle, WA.

Amazon Books storefront

From the Amazon Books announcement

Read that story first, and take care to study the pictures. That’s important.

And then, if you want some more info, check out this story from the Seattle Times.

I have so many questions. Some are first-store specific, others are for if this becomes a bigger thing.

The Seattle Times piece claims all books will be faced out, but looking at the picture above (from the Amazon announcement), I see some spine-out books. Are those just overstock, or is the Times article incorrect, and there will be some books spined-out? (Presumably workhorse backlist titles, presumably with strong sales records and/or review ratings).

Will Amazon Publishing titles be featured with tables/fixture placement? B&N and many indies have largely refused to stock Amazon Publishing titles, for understandable reasons. The Seattle Times piece indicates that the store won’t be just a showcase for Apub titles, but it seems highly unlikely Apub titles won’t get a solid push – possibly with a Kindle First fixture/table.

Will publishers be able to/be required to pay co-op for placement in these stores?

How will staff be instructed to interact with customers? Engaged and personal shopper-y like indies, or more of a zone defense Info desk culture like Barnes & Noble? Will the booksellers coming over from indies bring that approach with them, and how?

And most of all – how will titles be selected? I see sections marked “Genre <X> with 4.5 Star rating or Above,” “Highly Rated – 4.8 Stars and Above,” “Top pre-orders,” but also some traditional end-caps like “Gifts for the Gamer.”

Basically, I saw the news and wanted to hop on a red-eye to check out the store when it opens. Which is precisely what I imagine Amazon wants from readers. Not just Amazon die-hard readers, but also indie-loyalists, B&N fans, and so on. Making noise and getting attention is the first priority of a new business venture in terms of driving sales.


The Bigger Picture

If this test store does well, I could see Amazon Books expanding to a few stores in Seattle plus one in another 5-6 cities over the next year – probably based on Amazon’s “Most Well-Read Cities” lists they put out each year. That would take them to Portland, Las Vegas, Tuscon, Washington, D.C., Austin, etc. (Note that New York City is not on that list, despite being the home of traditional publishing.) It might even be faster – Amazon sometimes confounds by moving faster or slower than expected.

If Amazon Books succeeds and expands aggressively, I see it challenging the regional and smaller chains like Partners, Hastings, and Books-a-Million, and also posing a possible threat to Barnes & Noble directly on a long enough time-frame. The physical bookselling world achieved an equilibrium a while after Borders closed, but it’s not immune to further disruption.

Notably, I don’t think independent bookstores have as much to worry about here. Indie Bookstores have rallied to a big degree, with more American Bookseller Association members in 2014 than there had been since 2002. The current strong Indies have figured out a model that works – personal curation, community connection, and individuality. Each one has their own version of that model – part of the individuality part. And personally, I’ll take an experienced bookseller’s opinion over a Goodreads rating average any day (individual Goodreads reviewers = often good – On average, the #s are wildly undependable).

Amazon Books does have booksellers, and those booksellers could be excellent hand-sellers (most appear to have been recruited from indie stores). But if Amazon Books moved into a city with a strong indie, they might find themselves hard-pressed to beat out an established indie for community connection and individuality. They might end up not competing for customers as much as we’d think.

There could very well be room for everyone to thrive even with a wider-spread Amazon Books chain. I could see Amazon Books staying limited, bringing the .com experience into the retail space as much to sell .com as to sell books directly. But you can bet that booksellers around the country are going to be paying very close attention to Amazon Books this holiday season. And the smart ones will steal cool ideas from Amazon and apply them in their own storefronts as best they can.

So, if you’re in Seattle and want to do some investigation for me, please head into this Amazon Books location and report back. 🙂

Mike’s latest novel is Hexomancy, the fourth Ree Reyes urban fantasy, where geek magic squares off against a quartet of Fate Witches hell-bent on revenge.

Hexomancy cover