On a recent trip to Seattle, I took some time to go to the Amazon bookstore in University Village. I wanted to see what the behemoth online retailer would do with a bookstore. Although Amazon began as an online bookseller, it has morphed into the Wal-Mart of the Internet. It still sells books, but books are not its purpose any more.
What I discovered was a very inviting bookstore. Most bookstores these days seem to cram their merchandise into every nook and cranny. Only the bestsellers get full face treatment, with the bulk of the inventory showing only the spines, so that unless you know what you want, it is hard to browse.
The Amazon bookstore showed the full face of most books. In this store, book covers matter even more than most places. The result was an uncluttered, open feel, more like an art gallery than a library. True, there were fewer titles available than in most large bookstores, but there was still a broad collection—fiction and nonfiction bestsellers, regional books on the Pacific Northwest, various genres, and some displays that tied to Amazon online ratings.
I was intrigued by one display of “Highly Rated Debut Authors” and found a couple of titles I’d like to read. My only criticism of this display was that it appeared to only feature traditionally published titles. Moreover, some of the books were “highly rated” with only fifteen or twenty reviews. Why wouldn’t Amazon feature some self-published authors who have used Amazon’s own CreateSpace imprint on their books and have garnered far more favorable reviews than those featured?
If Amazon expands its bookstore concept to cities around the U.S., I’d like to see a display focused on local authors in each city, including self-published authors with highly rated books. Amazon’s ability to curate its online resources surely gives it the capacity to tailor a display to each store.
I also liked the integration of print and ebook inventory and browsing opportunities. Both the technology and paper books were attractively displayed, with opportunities to browse both. Kindle devices were available for purchase, of course, but Kindles were also available in reading areas in both the children’s and adult’s sections for customers to use for browsing.
Unfortunately, the magazines and books loaded on these devices were limited. By contrast, customers who bring their Nooks into Barnes & Noble stores can read any Nook ebook while they are in the store. While it was nice to have Amazon’s recommendations for books as featured on the in-store devices, there was no opportunity to examine other books by those authors, nor to browse for new ebooks from one’s favorite authors. Amazon should at least permit the browsing of all “read inside” portions of ebooks—customers should be able to browse at least as much in the store as they can at home.
Despite this criticism, I enjoyed the opportunity to sit for a few minutes and play with a new Kindle device while reading some periodicals I wouldn’t typically look at.
At some point in the not-too-distant future, I’d love to see a bookstore that combines the attractiveness and “browsability” of the Amazon Bookstore with on-demand printing of books. Why not include an Espresso press in the store so customers who want the hard copy of a book not available in inventory can print their own? Many readers are satisfied with the ebook reading experience, but some are not. I believe prices someday will make this possible.
In summary, while the Amazon Bookstore is not the place to go to find a gently used treasure, it is a nice complement to the Amazon online book-buying experience (for both tangible books and ebooks). It is also a worthy competitor to Barnes & Noble and local independent bookstores. Other bookstores can learn from Amazon about the integration of print and digital.
For two good reviews of the Amazon Bookstore, see Amazon Books: 4 months later, the retail giant’s bricks-and-mortar experiment feels like a winner, by Frank Catalano, March 13, 2006, on Geek Wire , and I shopped at Amazon’s first real-life bookstore ever and it was freaking awesome, by Matt Weinberger, Aug. 13, 2016, on Business Insider.
What do you like best about bookstores?