I flew into Seattle on Wednesday, so of course my first priority Thursday morning was to go to U-Village and check out the first-ever retail book store run by Amazon. At this point in publishing, all the major retail players have taken their game online, but this is really the first time someone is going in the opposite direction. Amazon.com is a twenty-first century marketplace opening up a twentieth-century style store. Walking in here felt as weird as going to an open air market to haggle over the price of eggs instead of using the self-checkout at Safeway.
It wasn’t as big as I was expecting it to be, especially considering the massive Barnes and Noble that used to be U-Village’s go-to book store. A lot of staff power and floorspace was dedicated to tablets and ereaders (as well as Fire TV and Prime Membership.) I wasn’t interested in that, but those people must be good at their job because they convinced my mother to buy a tablet. Point of reference: my mother was still a little fuzzy on the difference between a “tablet” and a “laptop” last time I talked to her about them
One of the most interesting layout decisions was how they had all books forward-facing. In major retailers like Barnes and Nobel, publishers will actually pay to have certain book stocked with the cover out. In Amazon, everything is forward-facing except for the “overstock” and rarely requested books, which are stacked above. They were so high, I couldn’t even read their titles. I think the logic is that they’re putting out all their most popular and best-selling books, then stocking others above and in the back in case someone comes in looking for something a little less hot. Amazon seems to have stocked their store on the principle that readers only go to bookstores looking for something popular…if you want mind-boggling selection, that’s what online ordering is for.
With all their books facing out, they usually included a review, a bar code to scan with your phone if you had some Amazon App, and the statistics of how many stars and how many reviews it had on the site. Also, that’s the first I’ve seen of the new “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” cover and I think it’s adorable.
They didn’t put any prices on the books, but since Amazon regularly sells books below “list” price, you had to either scan or google them to figure it out!
Some sections they organized by rating, either using data from Amazon or Goodreads. Looking at the classics shelf, something caught my eye.
Cheap glossy cover? Author and Title that doesn’t interact with a poorly cropped cover image? Is this…a self-published Createspace book?
The “publisher” didn’t even bother indenting paragraphs, giving it standard margins, or correct line adjustment issues (an irksome problem I had to deal with when printing Conscious with Amazon’s self-publishing platform back in 2010) Like all Victorian classics, Great Expectations is now in the public domain so you can legally take it and publish it yourself for profit, which is what I suspect someone did. There was no contact information, back cover text, publisher name, or bar-code anywhere in the book. Why Amazon decided to stock this edition of the classic is beyond me.
This was the only other self-published book I found while hunting around, which really confused me. It’s a 4.7 so not even in the “highly rated” category, and with only 76 reviews, I can’t imagine how a book that isn’t on the best-seller list in any of its genre categories made it into the store. If you’re going to stock lesbian romance books in a small book store, wouldn’t you want to be stocking books from your top 100 best lesbian romance list? And before you ask, no, she’s not a local author.
Aside from these couple of self-published books that I found snuck in, the titles seemed to be professional, big titles from major publishers. As nice as it was, I can’t imagine that Amazon would ever become a big force in the retail world. They might get big enough to give Barnes and Noble some trouble, but I think the joy of shopping for books is best experienced somewhere more colorful. If you just want a book, you’ll order it from Amazon online. If you’re going to go to all the trouble of putting pants on and driving to a store, you’re probably going to want something that has a bit more local flavor or eclectic selection. There’s no cafe, no staff picks, and no awkwardly mismatched armchairs to read in. It’s a great place to go if you want a best-seller below list price…but if that’s all you’re looking for, ordering it online makes just as much sense. But seeing as though I was there…
…I figured I might as well pick up a book. One doesn’t watch the technological advancement of the publishing distribution chain reverse itself for experimental publicity everyday! On the whole, it is an interesting business move on Amazon’s part, but I’m pretty sure it is only to scare Barnes and Noble. I can’t imagine that this is going to be a particularly profitable venture for Amazon when more commerce is moving online everyday, and those of us still rooting around physical book stores are doing so because we like paging through things other than what the New York Times Bestseller List tells us to read.