I will start this off with three important details:
1) I am deep believer in the importance of a healthy independent bookstore community. I try very hard to put my money behind my beliefs.
2) Many, many, many years ago, I worked for a big box bookstore. I was quickly promoted from peon to assistant manager. With my jump in status, I earned a whole extra dollar per hour than my minimum-wage earning peers. I tended to spend this huge salary at the independent bookstore around the corner from my apartment.
3) Every once in a while, I order a book from Amazon. I feel guilty about that. But Amazon does indeed make things quick and easy and cheap, and I always whisper sorry sorry sorry to the universe before enjoying my book.
So today, I – independent bookstore supporting, occasional Amazon customer, former big-box-bookseller – ventured to the new Amazon bookstore at my local mall. I did wear a disguise, just in case anyone planned to jump out from behind a shelf and holler, “Traitor!”
Many of you remember the drama when Amazon.com hit it big. Independent bookstores couldn’t compete with the discounted prices and dropped from the literary scene like flies. Many remaining physical bookstores were big box chains. But more recent news has pointed to a resurgence of independent bookstores and the decline of the corporate chains. At my local mall, for example, a longstanding Barnes and Noble closed, making mall customers have to venture one mile in either direction to independent bookstores if they wanted to browse for books.
In this context, the purpose of the new Amazon store is a bit fuzzy. Is it to take the place of the big box chains that the company helped to diminish? Is it to compete, once again, with independents? Neither of these reasons seems to justify this new venture, especially in light of the fact that books seem to be a side component of the Amazon enterprise these days.
In any case, here are my impressions:
The Amazon store is a miniature version of a Barnes and Noble-type store, without the comfy chairs and coffee. The store reminds me of an airport bookstore – crisp, clean, efficient – as if it were a quick stop between meetings.
The selection is random and limited. Every title is placed face-out. There are bestsellers and an assortment of isolated titles, presumably chosen because they are top picks at the online site. Oh yeah, and the reviews you put on Amazon? Those sit underneath each book on the shelves. It turns out you really are handing over your words when you contribute to their online site. There’s a Goodreads shelf, too, just to remind you that Amazon owns that platform as well.
If you do need to sit, there is a row of benches by the window. Each bench has a charging station – presumably for your kindle or other Amazon device. While you’re resting, you could reach over and grab something to read from the Gardening section, which is just inches away. Who knew there was a book called The 20-30 Something Garden Guide? Does this age group garden differently? Maybe there’s a chapter on the convenient management of your hipster beard while digging in the dirt…? Just kidding. If you are a young reader/gardener/beard owner, I get the sense that this bookstore was created specifically for your busy life.
And if you don’t own a Kindle, well, guess what? You can buy one there. The center section of the store provides sample devices for you to try. I’m assuming that this is at least part of the real reason for the bookstore’s existence – to sell the technology that’s at the root of Amazon’s book business.
I did walk away empty handed today, but not because there weren’t interesting books there and not just because I like to spend money at independent stores. I walked away because I didn’t see anything unusual. Nothing grabbed me. Nothing stood out. But, then again, I also got the sense that I’m not the customer they are trying to attract. And by the size of the crowd in the store, there are plenty of life-in-the-fast-lane readers who will continue to fill the (narrow) aisles with their hipster beards (and your beard is lovely, really).
|An example of what you find when you Google "hipster reading"|