Friday, February 05, 2016

More bookstores on the horizon?

The big buzz the other day was that Amazon - of all organizations - was planning on opening 300 to 400 bookstores. The source of the rumor was the head of an outfit that owns a bunch of malls. Sandeep Mathrani, CEO of General Growth Properties, dropped this good-for-the-mall-world bit of info on his company's earnings call.

As a result of Mathrani's comments, Barnes & Noble share price dropped.

(I suspect that there are plenty of B&N execs who are muttering Thanks, Sandeep and rethinking their location plans.)

Soon after, Mathrani was walking back his comments, "clarifying" that they were "'not intended' to represent the online retailer's plans." Which is not exactly the same as sayhing it's not going to happen. (Amazon wouldn't comment one way or the other.)

Anyway, I find this all very interesting, given the role that Amazon played in drving so many "brick and mortar" bookstores out of business. This happened to both chains (c.f., Borders) and those small, lovable indies we love to have on the corner but don't bother to shop at. (I'm fortunate to have a good indie, the Trident Bookstore Cafe, about 20 minutes away. It's not all that large, and a lot of their real estate is devoted to their cafe. But it's a great little bookstore, carries a good selection of literary fiction titles, has cashiers who seem to love reading, and will order anything for you. Plus the food's not bad.)

And now, having bulldozed their path clear, Amazon may - or may not - be jumping back into the physical bookstore fray.

What they have done already, however, is step toe in the water last fall, having opened a store in their hometown of Seattle in November.
Amazon's bookstore in Seattle carries boooks selected based on customer rating and their popularity on The storefront also provides a space fo visitors to test-drive Amazon's Kindle, Fire TV and other devices. (Source: Reuters)
I'm by no means an Amazon basher.

I've ordered plenty of books - real books and Kindle downloads - not to mention other stuff from their site, and may well be heading over there when I finish this up to order a wrought iron banana hanger, an item that I couldn't find at Bed, Bath & Beyond when I was there the other day.

But that only carrying "books selected based on customer rating and their popularity on" gives me pause. I know that there are plenty of good reads that rise to the top, but, when it comes to books, I'm not all that big on the wisdom of crowds. Will the Amazon physical bookstores end up being like Walden or those other sad-sack chains of yore that primiarly carried Tom Clancy, Barbara Cartland, and low-end cookbooks?

After all, one of the great pleasures of being in a bookstore is grazing the "what's new" table, followed by some grazing on the off-price remainders table. One of the things I liked best about Boston's late, lamented downtown Borders was its tremendous grazing opportunities. Borders carried a good selection of high-qualilty fiction, and had a lot of excellent books on their bargain table, as well. (I understand this can also happen at Barnes & Noble, but the B&N in downtown Boston is not very good; definitely reading-lite.)

I also think it would be pretty amusing to see Amazon coming around to the merits of having "brick and mortar" estabishments. I know, I know, Amazon now has some same-day deliveries, and before we know it, there'll be instantaneous drone delivery. But there's really nothing like being able to just walk in and buy a couple of books. Instant gratification of the most high-brow order!

We'll see whether Amazon will soon be hanging out shingles in malls around the country.

Whether it happens or not, I'll be doing my bit to keep the Trident in business.

I may still order an occasional book from Amazon. And they're more than likely to get my banana hanger business. But I think I'll do a walkabout tomorrow, amble up Newbury Street, and see just what's up on the bargain table at Trident.

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