When I first heard that Amazon was opening bookstores, this was my initial reaction:
By creating their online business, Amazon has cornered a huge market of book buying which most of the purchasing is done online. So why would Amazon take the risk of opening a brick and mortar bookstore, especially when a lot of them have been closing and people continue to fear their extinction?
Nevertheless, as any multi-billion corporation, Amazon persevered and started opening locations in Washington State, California, Oregon, Massachusetts, and Illinois. Now New York can meet the ranks. Amazon opened a New York location on May 25 in the Time Warner Building in Columbus Circle, the same location where a Borders use to be. A second location in New York will open on 34th Street in the summer. My co-worker told me about this latest grand opening and, of course, being librarians (and fellow book lovers) are interest was piqued and we decided to take a trip to Midtown Manhattan and see if this new store meets our expectations.
So how did Amazon do? Did the company manage to ruin the joy of buying books or provide an alternative and unique experience that breathes new life into the printed word? Before you go out and visit an Amazon Bookstore (if one is close by to you), why not read my pros and cons list and decide for yourself if it will be worth the trip:
- Layout: I liked the layout of the store. It was less clutter compared to other bookstores. They had this book stand where it not only face the book out, but makes
it appear that the store has a lot of copies of the title when that is the case. It makes the shelves a lot neater and organized.
- Interesting Displays: Amazon may have started as an online retailer but it knows how to create a book display, especially for a certain audience. They had displays one highlighting a particular author, a display promoting the top bestsellers in the store’s current location (as shown in the right side image)
- Limited Seating: There were some chairs spread about the store but not that much. This really encourages customers to be what they are…customers! It is reminder that it is a place of business not a library.
- No cafe!: A joyous victory for workers who worked in a bookstore with a cafe. No more spilled coffee or various food crumbs found on books. (A relief I feel for the workers)
- Defining age groups: When patrons (or customers when I use to work at Barnes and Noble) ask me where do we keep books for the 5 year olds or the 10 year olds, I would tell then that is not how we organize our books. Sure, I can tell which books are for a younger or older children but Amazon’s set up is very useful, especially in a bookstore. If there is a particular age group you are looking for, you can find it more visibly.
- Cashless Bookstore: This maybe not be accepting to customers but I am counting this as a plus for the workers. I hated dealing with cash when I was a cashier at Barnes and Noble, always scared if my till was short or over. It might be a nuisance to the customers but it a huge sigh of relief to the workers.
- Knicks Knacks…Go Away!: No more nuisance or nonsensical items around cash wrap.
- Supply and Demand: The books in the Amazon Bookstore are of a special kind: the stores will only stock books that have a high popularity on Goodreads or a 4-star and above customer rating on Amazon. Customers don’t get a chance to see all the books that have recently been released, only the ones that were able to make the exclusive list. It prevents Amazon Books from being well-rounded bookstore.
- Turn Over Rate: There was bookshelf labeled: “Books with More Than 10,000 Reviews on Amazon.com” (pictured below). This is great and all but my question is do they change the books if a new book makes it to 10,000? These are very popular books so the chances of them being overcome but another newcomer are very slim. So will this display ever change? This is more evidence of how Amazon chooses popularity over quality.
- Separating Books by Topics: What I love about going to a bookstore is that if there is a particular interest you have, the store will most likely have it organized in a way that you can go straight to that section and find the books you are looking. Amazon Books severely lacks this feature. They don’t divide the cookbooks by type or history books by topic. They just lumped all of the cookbooks in one section and the same with history, etc. Some may feel that is not a real problem but if you are the type of book lover who likes Italian cookbooks or reading about British History, it would be nice to have a section that you can go straight to.
- No Information Desk: There is no info desk or a kiosk of some sort for customers to go to if they wanted to search for a particular book. I didn’t ask an employee but I feel they would have said “search on the Amazon App”. Speaking of the Amazon App…
- Still an Online Retailer: Amazon Books doesn’t make you forget that they are still an online store…especially when you need to use the Amazon app for mostly everything. You need to find out the price of the book? Just whip out your phone, open the Amazon app (or if you don’t have it, they “encourage” you to download it), take a picture of the book or scan the barcode on the title label, and it will tell you the price. They don’t have the price listed anywhere on a sign but they have a kiosk (it looked like the only one) that serves as a price scanner and it can tell you the price. But hold on! Looks can be deceiving…
- Prime-Member Centric: Amazon loves promoting its Prime Membership and this store does not move away from that…especially since the pricing of the books affects how much you will be saving on your purchase. That’s right, the price is different for Prime members and non-Prime members. So like I said before, when you scan or take a picture of the book, it will give you the online price. If you are a prime member, you pay the online (and cheaper) price. If not, you pay the list price. But don’t fret. If you don’t sign up for Prime right there and then, you have 30 days to sign up so you get the discount and get the money back. How do you that? That question leads to my next con.
- You need an Amazon account: Never bought anything from Amazon before? Well be prepared to have an account with them after your visit to their bookstore. When I was purchasing my books, I was asked if I have an Amazon account. I said yes and they wanted the credit card associated with that account. I don’t know if this is a way to encourage customers to sign up for Prime or for people to do it in 30 days but they really want you to have one. However, they don’t provide the opportunity to create one right then and there. My co-worker wanted to sign up with a different email address but it didn’t look like they could do that at the register. I have a feeling they would probably tell customers to use their phone to create an Amazon account. Which leads to my next issue…
- No Wifi!: I know a trend is starting to abandon wifi in bookstores and I am all for it. However, for a store that relies so heavily on their customers using their phones to check the price of a book or sign up for an Amazon account, it is necessary for them to provide free wifi. Don’t want angry customers complaining about their data overage.
- Amazon Products: A corner of the store is devoted to Amazon devices such as the Kindle and Alexa. I mean this unavoidable since this is an Amazon store but they could make that part of the store use less space. It doesn’t need half of the book floor, especially since a lot of people are not buying ebooks as they use to.
- There is no classics section: Enough said.
- Amazon Self-Publishing: There was no mention or display of Amazon self-published books. If this is their own store, this is a good way to promote their self-publishing platform. However, it was nowhere to be seen. I believe this is a missed opportunity here.
I am not saying Amazon Books is a bad store. It is very nice, beautifully laid out, and shows Amazon continue devotion to the printed word. However, will I be visiting again? Highly unlikely. I love browsing through the bookshelves and finding new books that I never heard of. I don’t get that kind of experience at Amazon Books. You’ll have a hard time finding something specific there. If it is not popular, then you won’t find it at Amazon Books. I tend to not read books that are trending so I will have a hard time enjoying the store as much. But if you’re a type of reader who likes reading popular books, then this is the store for you.
So is Amazon Books a threat to Indie bookstores. Absolutely not. Independent bookstores offer so much that it cannot be compared to Amazon Books. Indie bookstores have events, book signings, and story times. They have more of a literary presence in the community, something that I don’t think Amazon Books is looking to offer. But Barnes and Noble on the other hand, they should feel threatened. Amazon Books have a lot features that they wish Barnes and Noble offered them. I always had to argue with Barnes and Noble customers as to why the prices are not the same in-store as it is online. Now Amazon Books offers that incentive, although you have to sign up for Prime which can tempt people to sign up with all their offerings. They always considered Apple to be a threat but they never saw Amazon coming.
Amazon Books will not fill the void for communities missing a bookstore but it does provide an alternative. But the one good thing about Amazon Bookstores opening? Indie bookstores still reign supreme.
Here are more pictures I was able to capture in the new Amazon bookstore in NYC.