By Natalie Bozimowski, with Aurélie Boris
Gazing at the children’s books section last Thursday at Amazon Books, Yasuko searched for a last-minute gift for her grandson while holding a cut-out from the New York Times about the book she was searching for. Accustomed to getting her literary fix from her local library in Chelsea, she commented on this new place: “I came out of curiosity but I'm not sure yet how I feel about it. What do you think?"
On May 25, 2017, the doors officially opened at the new Amazon Books store in Columbus Circle in New York. Another store on 34th Street is expected to open this summer. In November 2015, Amazon — the world’s largest online retailer — opened its first brick-and-mortar bookstore in Seattle. It was an unexpected twist for a company that had built its empire by selling books (and now everything else) online. LSP visited the latest Amazon Books venue, located in the city that's ostensibly the heart of America's publishing industry, just days after it opened its doors.
“Download the app while you’re waiting,” was the advice we heard an employee offer while ushering guests inside the store. Once inside, we noticed the busy Memorial Day weekend had attracted a diverse crowd of young professionals, families, elders, and students alike.
For now, it seems New Yorkers are curious about the latest addition to the city's bookstore landscape. Daniel, a customer in his twenties visiting the shop because it's near his home, told us: "I usually go to mom and pop stores or book fairs but I was curious to see for myself. I might come back. Although I do think it's more expensive than going online."
For Amazon, opening a physical store seemed like a natural - and smart - progression, given what it knows about its customers.
“What we realized was that we had 20 years of data — about why customers buy, how they buy, what they read, how they read and why they’re reading it — that could make a physical bookstore just a different and better place to discover books," Amazon Books chief Jennifer Cast told technology news website, Recode, about its reason for transitioning into bricks and mortar. "So that’s what we wanted to do.”
Walking around the place, it's clear that the store refers back to and relies on its technological roots, even in the fit-out. Navigating through sections organized by genre, we also stopped to observe titles arranged according to “Books with more than 10,000 reviews on Amazon.com,” and “Page Turners,” comprised of “Books Kindle Readers Finish in 3 Days or Less.”
The books are displayed with their covers face-forward on shelves to avoid having to scan hundreds of spines at a time for an eye-catching title. Approximately 3,000 books are offered in-store, which are selected based on online reviews and bestseller-status. The company’s digital products aren’t left out either, with devices such as the Kindle and Echo available in the “Gadgets & Gizmos” section. Unlike its smaller, independent competitors, this bookstore is all business, with limited seating that seems to be more about decoration than encouraging readers to settle in for a few minutes with a potential new read.
Amazon Books seems, at least in these early days, to be a success for the company. It's market value has risen lately, with its stock recently hitting the $1,000 mark. LSP