Beloved or reviled, Amazon has become a regular player in our consumer experience. Already famous for having a hand in putting many a small bookshop (and other stores) out of business, the online retailer has expanded its presence into the non-digital arena.
Amazon has already opened actual bookstores — what the company calls Amazon Books — in Seattle and San Diego. Plans are afoot to launch more retail locations in Portland, Chicago and New York City.
And yes, also Boston.
Home to one of the nation’s most vibrant indie bookseller scenes, Greater Boston will be the site of an Amazon Books branch in Dedham at the Legacy Place shopping center, opening sometime in 2017.
Since Amazon’s founding in 1994 at the dawn of the internet, we’ve all learned to coexist with this behemoth — and not just grumpy book lovers like me whose mantra has been to support the little guy. But this latest move is ironic. Amazon is sending its slithery tendrils into the very sphere it helped to decimate, the brick-and-mortar book business.
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As a former bookseller myself, I lament these events. Must Amazon nose in on the very territory that indie bookstores have cultivated for decades? In less generous moods, I complain to the heavens — or, perhaps, to “the cloud” — when is enough, enough? Can’t you be satisfied with dominating online sales?
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To be sure, the Boston branch poses no immediate threat to our hometown favorites. Amazon Books is headed to what some might call an already soulless shopping center, the luxury Legacy Place, where there’s nary an indie for miles. It’s not like Amazon Books is invading Harvard Square. Not yet.
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I recently attended the New England Independent Booksellers Association conference in Providence, where I spoke with many booksellers. I ran into a colleague who is opening an indie bookstore in Belmont next spring. Despite the always uncertain climate for indie shops, he’s taking a chance and putting his savings on the line.
But here’s the rub: More may be lost when Amazon expands its kudzu-like growth everywhere. The online chain’s impact threatens to be even more catastrophic to communities than when Barnes & Noble took over more than 700 college bookstores nationwide, sticking it to students by turning a profit on the lucrative textbook market.
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It’s an outrage since much of the indies’ recent success is due to being creative and attentive to their customer base. They’ve added cafes, bolstered community outreach, and offered a robust series of events and loyalty programs. Wanna bet that Amazon will eventually try to duplicate this very formula?
Link to the rest at WBUR
PG wonders whether the local indie cafes, a first rung on the ladder to financial security for so many recent immigrants, were considered by the indie bookstores before the bookstores opened their own cafes.