There’s a New Bookstore in Town

So Amazon built a bookstore. A real, live brick-and-mortar bookstore they are calling, in a fit of creativity, Amazon Books.

According to the press release:

Amazon Books is a physical extension of Amazon.com. We’ve applied 20 years of online bookselling experience to build a store that integrates the benefits of offline and online book shopping. The books in our store are selected based on Amazon.com customer ratings, pre-orders, sales, popularity on Goodreads, and our curators’ assessments. These are fantastic books! Most have been rated 4 stars or above, and many are award winners.

As you may know, Amazon has already killed the bookstore and is in the process of killing the comic book store. Apparently, Jeff Bezos is out to replace the public library! I was under the impression that libraries had already been killed by Amazon. Or millenials. Or the falling price of books. Or automation and technology (you might not be able to read that article because you’d have to have access through your library… awkward turn of events there). Or maybe it was the death of reading? Whichever it was… librarians, you apparently have been granted a reprieve, until now.

In case it wasn’t clear, I’m over the thinkpieces about the End of [Insert Beloved Bookish Thing].  I’m not Amazon’s biggest fan for a number of reasons: the way they bully employeesthe way they bully publishers, the way they bully states, etc. I try (but sometimes fail) to spend my book dollars at brick-and-mortar stores in my community or through other e-book sellers. If given the choice between buying a book at an Amazon Books versus another brick-and-mortar store in my community, I’d like to think I’d opt for the non-Amazon option.

I just happen to think the least interesting thing about this news is how it might hurt bookstores or libraries. What is interesting to me?

  • The opening of a bookstore during The End Time for Books. Reports to the contrary, bookstores still exist. By some reports, some of them are thriving. Amazon, for some reason, felt compelled to open another bookstore. Now their reasons for opening the store could prove nefarious, but for now, I choose to be happy that community has a new place to buy books.
  • The opening of a bookstore that is designed to be place for customers to interact with books and other readers. From the Atlantic piece linked above: “It’s a space that encourages patrons to hang out in, to spend time in, to settle down in. Amazon Books, like a Barnes & Noble of yore, comes complete with plush leatherette chairs for relaxed reading. There are open areas for browsing and chatting. There’s a kids’ area. (‘Relax, read, and discover great books with your children,’ the release invites.)” Again, I don’t know why Amazon is opening this store, but I don’t think it’s too far a stretch to infer that there is an understanding that having a place where people and books can interact is a valuable thing. My friend and I refer to trips to the bookstore as “visiting the books” for good reason – for some book nerds, there are times when you just want to hang out in a place where there are a lot of books.
  • The opening of a bookstore where customers may buy both physical books and e-books. From the press release: “Walk out of the store with a book; lighten your load and buy it online (Prime customers, of course, won’t pay for shipping); buy an eBook for your Kindle; or add a product to your Amazon Wish List, so someone else can buy it.” I like to read both physical books and e-books. Sometimes, I’ll find myself in a bookstore, I’ll discover a book I’d like to buy, but I’d really rather own the book digitally or I’m already buying three books and can’t afford another one right this minute. I’m certainly not saying the isn’t something existing brick-and-mortars don’t support (though I am not familiar with an instance of it being supported seamlessly), but I think it’s an interesting model that really works well with my book buying habits.
  • The opening of a bookstore with crowd-sourced “collection development” (sorry, I can’t get away from librarian-speak). Again, from the press release: “The books in our store are selected based on Amazon.com customer ratings, pre-orders, sales, popularity on Goodreads, and our curators’ assessments.” As a reader, I find this this the single most worrisome line in the press release and the primary reason (aside from my anti-Amazon feels) why I would not want to shop in this store. Perhaps the “curators’ assessments” will play a large role in the books that end up on the shelves, but… I find Amazon a pretty useless resource for book discovery, and Goodreads is only useful because I have awesome friends with great taste. After reading some truly terrible books, I’ve learned to take the customer ratings on Amazon with quite a few grains of salt. If I am going to a bookstore for help with book discovery, I am not looking for the collective wisdom of the internet.  Maybe I’m being romantic, but I think there is a lot of value in recommendations that come from individual readers with idiosyncratic tastes and a deep knowledge of books, whether they are my awesome friends on Goodreads, awesome librarians, awesome booksellers, or super awesome readers with bookish blogs *wink wink, nudge nudge.*

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