What Dallas-based Half Price Books has to say about Amazon opening bookstores: Print is alive

5 February 2016

From The Dallas Morning News:

When the big kahuna in your category wants to expand on your turf, it’s usually nothing for a retailer to get excited about. But here’s an honest reaction from Dallas-based Half Price Books to the prospect of opening lots of bookstores nationwide.

First, Amazon is probably finding out with the one store it opened in Seattle last year, that “it’s not as easy [as] running a warehouse,” said Half Price Books executive vice president Kathy Doyle Thomas.

But more importantly, it’s a bit of vindication for Half Price Books that Amazon wants in on the brick-and-mortar scene. “I’m excited that they see what we believe that the printed word isn’t dead,” Thomas said. “We’ve known for 44 years that people like to browse and shop bookstores.”

Half Price Books with 126 stores in 16 states and sales of $260 million last year, is the third largest U.S. bookstore chain behind Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million.

. . . .

A little reconnaissance shopping at the Seattle store revealed some issues, she said. “We know how to manage stores with smart intelligent people who have to know about authors and subjects. It’s harder to do that than putting a book in a shipping box,” Thomas said. “Plus, space is valuable and you have to put every square foot to work.”

. . . .

“I worry that they’ll keep other bookstores out of shopping centers if they expand,” she said. There’s been a small resurgence in independent bookstores as entrpreneurs combine cafés and books like Serj Books & Local Food in Downtown Dallas and The Wild Detectives in Oak Cliff’s Bishop Arts District.

Thomas said if Amazon does move forward with brick-and-mortar stores, it may have more to do with the cost of shipping returns. That’s something that online customer service tracker StellaService said is likely encouraging Amazon to at least explore stores in its future.

“If this report is true, it is a clear move by Amazon to respond to how brick-and-mortar retailers have successfully invested in technology to leverage their physical stores to close the speed-and-efficiency gap with Amazon,” said Kevon Hills, StellaService vice president of research.

It would allow Amazon to offer free returns, which only its Prime members get now. “Buy online, return in store” has become an advantage major chains have carved out over Amazon, Hills said.

“Today Amazon can process refunds within a day or two, but cannot compete with retailers who offer ‘free return shipping’ by allowing shoppers to drop off a return at their neighborhood store,” he said. “Best Buy, Wal-Mart, Target, and other brick-and-mortar retailers operate at an advantage because they don’t charge shipping when consumers make returns in stores.”

Link to the rest at The Dallas Morning News and thanks to Darren for the tip.

On the few purchases PG has returned to Amazon, he’s never had to pay for return shipping unless the return was the result of his own mistake – ordering the wrong size, etc. Even with those, a lot of items offer free returns – you’ll see a designation next to the price of the product in the product description.

Additionally, it’s much easier for PG to drop a return into a UPS box than it is to drive to a retail store, figure out where he goes to return something, then wait for the right person to show up and process the return.

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Meet the Guy Behind Amazon’s Secret Retail Store Plans

4 February 2016

From Re/code:

The Amazon retail store initiative is being led by Steve Kessel, a longtime Amazon executive whose team launched the first Kindle e-reader and who is very tight with CEO Jeff Bezos, according to three sources familiar with the group.

Kessel is widely respected inside Amazon, where he is known as a low-ego leader with greater emotional intelligence than some other senior executives at the company, according to two sources. He joined Amazon in 1999 and left in 2011 or 2012 to take a sabbatical. He started working on this initiative when he came back, these people say. The specifics of Kessel’s project had been a secret internally for a long time, but his group has attracted more attention since it opened up Amazon’s first brick-and-mortar bookstore in Seattle in the fall.

. . . .

Early Amazon exec Jennifer Cast runs the Amazon Books division and reports to Kessel. She spent a long time away from Amazon before returning in 2014 to take on this role.

. . . .

Amazon will indeed open up more bookstores, but it also plans to eventually unveil other types of retail stores in addition to bookstores, according to two sources familiar with the plans. It’s not yet clear what those stores will sell or how they will be formatted, but the retail team’s mission is to reimagine what shopping in a physical store would be like if you merged the best of physical retail with the best of Amazon.

One source says the team is experimenting with some of the ideas discussed in this retail-store-related patent application that Re/code uncovered last year. One of the experiences discussed in the application would allow customers to pick an item from a shelf and automatically be charged for it upon exiting the store without stopping to pay at a checkout counter or kiosk.

. . . .

Amazon is currently hiring for a new Amazon Books bookstore in Southern California that has yet to be announced, according to job listings. One listing, for an Amazon Books assistant store manager in La Jolla or San Diego, says: “You love the excitement of running a bookstore. You have a flair for leading teams and adjusting your leadership style based on the situation. You enjoy reading and keep yourself updated on the latest in the digital devices front. You are part of the store leadership team.”

There are no immediate plans for a rollout of 300 to 400 stores, two sources say, but they could not rule out that eventual outcome.

Link to the rest at Re/code and thanks to Christian for the tip.

Amazon Plans Hundreds of Brick-and-Mortar Bookstores

2 February 2016

From The Wall Street Journal:

After dipping its toes into brick-and-mortar retail last year by opening its first physical bookstore, Inc. could be diving into the deep end.

The Seattle company plans as many as 400 bookstores, Sandeep Mathrani, chief executive of large mall operator General Growth Properties Inc., said on an earnings call with analysts Tuesday.

“You’ve got Amazon opening brick-and-mortar bookstores and their goal is to open, as I understand, 300 to 400,” said Mr. Mathrani in response to a question about mall traffic.

That compares to the 640 stores Barnes & Noble Inc. operates and the 255 locations Books-A-Million Inc. said it had as of last summer. Both companies spent years building out their retail operations. In addition to its one bookstore, Amazon already has a presence in Westfield Corp. malls, where it has set up permanent kiosks selling devices, cases and branded apparel.

. . . .

Following the Amazon news, shares of Barnes & Noble Inc. slid 1.7% to $7.95 in after-hours trading.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire) and thanks to Frank and others for the tip.

Amazon is ‘disintermediating’ more parts of tech

1 February 2016

From USA Today:

The list of technology companies in the cross-hairs of Amazon and its CEO Jeff Bezos grows longer every year.

And the Seattle-based company’s operating history shows being in that position could spell trouble for shareholders of those firms.

Amazon’s ever-expanding product portfolio has taken expected growth away from rivals ranging from eBay to

Revenue at Amazon is expected to reach roughly $130 billion this year, thanks to growth of 20%.

Netflix is the most obvious new target, now that Amazon’s Prime service — which includes digital video entertainment — has signed up nearly half of U.S. households.

. . . .

The jargon evokes another term that became popular during the dotcom era, around the time Amazon went public in 1997.

The word was ‘disintermediation,’ and it was used to describe how companies like Amazon could use the Internet to lower the costs of products and supply chains by eliminating pesky middlemen.

At the time, the people using the term — mostly startup CEO and venture capitalists — assumed that the businesses to be disintermediated would be of the bricks-and-mortar variety.

. . . .

It is true that music, video and bookstores have nearly vanished from the American landscape, as have retail travel agencies.

Meantime, Amazon has become the fifth-most valuable tech firm, with a market cap of $295 billion.

. . . .

Amazon was building warehouses filled with servers before anyone, even Salesforce CEO and fellow cloud pioneer Marc Benioff, was signing ‘cloud’ contracts.

Those massive buildings filled with humans, robots and computers place the company in a prime spot (no pun intended) as corporate America shifts to cloud services.

The problem for Microsoft, Netflix and other tech firms is that Amazon’s cost structure in most of its markets is lower than theirs.

Earlier this month, in a telling reminder, Microsoft slashed the price of some of its cloud services by 17%, a week after Amazon cut its prices 5%.

It was just the latest in a series of price cuts by the two companies.

Bezos has already shown that he can prevail in almost any low-margin market, while the cloud and Amazon Prime give Amazon the chance to attack higher-margin ones.

Link to the rest at USA Today

The story was mostly about tech, but PG noted that USA Today, generally regarded as the largest-circulation newspaper in the US, states that bookstores “have nearly vanished from the American landscape.” While it hasn’t actually happened, in the words of Lee Atwater, “Perception is reality.”

‘Sobering Statistics’ About the Effect of Amazon

26 January 2016

From Shelf Awareness:

One of the most well-attended and discussed sessions yesterday at the Winter Institute featured the release of a new Civic Economics-ABA study called The Fiscal and Land Use Impacts of Online Retail, which aims to demonstrate the effects of the growth of Amazon on American towns and cities. The study determined that in 2014, the last year for which it could get full-year statistics, Amazon sold $44.1 billion of retail goods nationwide, which is “the equivalent of 3,215 retail storefronts or 107 million square feet of commercial space, which might have paid $420 million in property tax.” Also in 2014, Amazon avoided collecting state and local sales tax of $625 million. Between uncollected sales tax and the loss of property tax, state and local governments lost more than $1 billion in revenue–about $8.48 per household in the U.S.–the study found.

In 2014, Amazon’s warehouses–65 million square feet of space–employed roughly 30,000 full-time workers and 104,000 part-time and seasonal workers. But including all the jobs lost from stores whose sales Amazon supplanted, Amazon sales “produced a net loss of 135,973 retail jobs.”

Matt Cunningham of Civic Economics noted, too, that in 2014 Amazon book sales were about $5.618 billion, some 11.6% of Amazon retail sales. That amount of sales represents about 3,600 “bookshop equivalents and 40,000 bookstore employees,” which he called “a sobering statistic.”

The study noted that as of the beginning of this year, Amazon is collecting sales tax on purchases in 27 states–soon to be 28–which is helpful for some state and local governments, but that other trends continue to get worse. “The displacement of retail space from communities to the Internet… has contributed to a slowdown in the occupancy and development of commercial space,” the study wrote. “This, in turn, has an invisible but certain impact on an essential source of revenue for most states, cities, and schools: property taxes.” And Amazon’s warehouses and distribution centers “on the peripheries of cities” are valued and taxed at lower rates than the spaces they are supplanting, often in downtowns.

. . . .

At the presentation, Stacy Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance emphasized that the study should serve as the basis for “generating a much bigger public conversation about the impact of Amazon,” particularly with government officials at all levels.

Link to the rest at Shelf Awareness

PG says this is a typical tactic of legacy businesses facing an innovative newcomer – lobbying government officials to place the newcomer at a disadvantage or even outlaw what the newcomer wants to do. See taxicabs vs. Uber, for example. Add in the practice of subsidizing city centers at the expense of suburbs.

Let’s consider a hypothetical bookstore located in Oregon, a state which has no sales tax. Powell’s Books would be one example.

If a faithful Powell’s customer leaves Portland for the bright lights of New York City, where the sales tax is 8.875% and decides to phone one of the exemplary Powell’s employees to order a book and have it shipped to New York, will Powell’s have to charge (and pay to the State of New York) New York City sales tax?

PG will assure one and all that it’s well-settled law that Powell’s has no legal obligation to collect New York sales tax unless it has nexus, also known as sufficient physical presence, in New York.

The ability to collect a state sales tax is restricted by the US Constitution. The Due Process Clause requires a definite link or minimum connection between the state and the person, property or transaction it seeks to tax and the Commerce Clause requires an even higher level of connection. The Commerce Clause requires a substantial presence in a taxing state by the entity the state desires to tax.  (See Quill Corp. v. North Dakota, 504 U.S. 298 (1992), a staple of law school constitutional law classes, for the Supreme Court’s ruling on the issue)

So, if Powell’s doesn’t have a legal obligation to collect New York sales tax, does it have a moral obligation to do so?

In PG’s extraordinarily humble opinion, the moral obligation to pay taxes is coterminous with the legal obligation to pay taxes. If an individual or organization has a legal obligation to pay taxes, their simple moral obligation is to pay the taxes due under the relevant statutes and regulations.

If Powell’s decides to make a free will donation to New York City because a former Portland resident lives there (and everyone at Powell’s watches New Year’s Eve on Times Square), Powell’s is free to do so.

New York City might send Powell’s a certificate of appreciation for being such a generous organization. However, PG thinks few people would say that free will donations to New York City are a moral obligation instead of a charitable impulse.

As far as retail stores and retail employees that do not exist because people like to buy things from Amazon, why is Amazon different from Sears & Roebuck? Sears & Roebuck was founded in 1886, and famed for the Sears & Roebuck catalog which offered goods and prices unavailable from the local general store.

From the Sears Archives:

In 1888, Richard Sears first used a printed mailer to advertise watches and jewelry. He illustrated the cover of the 1894 catalog declaring it the “Book of Bargains: A Money Saver for Everyone.” This catalog expanded from watches and jewelry, to include merchandise such as sewing machines, sporting goods, musical instruments, saddles, firearms, buggies, bicycles, baby carriages, and men’s and children’s clothing. At this time Sears wrote nearly every line appearing in the catalog by drawing upon his personal experience using language and expressions that appealed to his target customers.



Many thousands of stores closed because their customers ordered from Sears. PG doesn’t know whether the American General Stores Association campaigned to increase taxes on Sears or otherwise prevent Sears from selling its products at such low prices or not.

PG says it is a self-evidently foolish idea to promote the freezing of commerce and society into its present form, whether that form exists in 2016 or 1886.

If the American Booksellers Association hired researchers from Civic Economics to poll American consumers and ask if Amazon should be terminated, PG knows what the results would be.



Lessons learned

26 January 2016

From The Bookseller:

Are textbooks obsolete? And is the structure of the academic book trade about to fall apart?

I think it is. Our experience of running the University Bookseller in Plymouth points that way. This bookshop, which I started 42 years ago, has provided a living for 39 years. I was actually surprised that we survived the first three very tough years, but with hard work, clever work, we expanded into the premises next door, opened the basement up and even had an office and accounts area above the shop. It provided the springboard for us to open Falmouth Bookseller and St Ives Bookseller. We prospered. We grew with the expansion of the University of Plymouth as it introduced courses in marine science, business, psychology , biology, medical, law—all strong subjects. We became HMSO (Stationery Office) and British Standards Institution agents, and the business felt permanent.

But the academic trade has evaporated for us, even though less than 100 metres away there is a massive organisation devoted to teaching.

. . . .

But nowadays trying to run a bricks-and-mortar bookshop on 30% discounts from publishers is not possible: bookshops need 50% to run an effective business.

I always told folks: “It’s better to sell books to people who have to have them”, but that isn’t the case now. Information is available for free and I believe the textbook has no commercial future.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

How Independent Bookstores Are Thriving in the Digital Age

23 January 2016

From Publishing Perspectives:

Five years ago, timed to the American Booksellers Association’s (ABA) annual Winter Institute,The New York Times published a story entitled “Small Bookstores Struggle for Niche in Shifting Times.” The state of the industry as a whole was in jeopardy — Borders superstore chain was faltering, ebooks were on a meteoric rise, and Amazon was gaining market share in a dramatic way — and independent booksellers were on the front lines.  The article spoke to a recurring fear in the world of independent bookselling—that stores would be forced to close.

Today, on the eve of this year’s ABA Winter Institute in Denver, independent bookstores seem to be on safe ground. According to ABA newsletter Bookselling this Week, U.S. book sales for November were up 7.5% over last year, with the year-to-date sales up 1.7% over 2014 (December sales figures have not yet been reported). Furthermore, as of a report in February 2015, the number of independent bookstores increased 27% since 2009.

Oren Teicher, CEO of the American Booksellers Association, wasn’t surprised that the stories about independent bookstores declining or “dying” were overstated. “We are still here because stores play a real role in their community, and tens of times a day they are putting the right book into someone’s hand.”

. . . .

“Ultimately I don’t think indie bookstores have changed their core business very much. Handselling great books, offering excellent customer service, tailoring inventory and events programming to your customers’ interests — stores have been doing this for decades,” said Beach. “It is easier to be a small store now. It was easier for me to establish credit with accounts than it was for those who came before me. It’s easier now to keep your inventory tight and know that you can restock quickly as needed. It’s easier to have a website where customers can place orders and learn about events, without requiring a programmer on staff.”

While the rise of technology seemed like it would change the bookselling business dramatically and perhaps for the worse, it actually provided opportunities for independent bookstores that didn’t exist previously and evened the playing ground. “As the cost of technology comes down, small businesses can access the same technology as big corporations,” Teicher noted. Not only for promotion via websites, social media, and email blasts, but also the technology used to operate businesses, such as POS systems, inventory, accounting, and web design. “We are able to run a more efficient business at a cost we can afford.”

And, when it comes to enhancing their place in the community, social media only expands on that relationship. Vicki DeArmon, Marketing and Events Director for Copperfield’s Books in the San Francisco Bay Area, noted that bookstores and social media are a perfect promotion match. “Bookstores are a community-based edifice, so is social media,” said DeArmon. “We are constantly stoking the conversation with our customers in-store and online.”

. . . .

“Since much of social media success (though not all of it obviously) is about voice and authenticity, independent bookstores offer a lot that’s of interest: conversations about books, news about our community, perspectives from real people/booksellers, behind-the-scenes look at our store,” said Jessica Stockton Bagnulo, Co-Owner and Events Director for Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

WH Smith’s luxury venture takes off at Terminal 5

21 January 2016

From The Bookseller:

W H Smith has opened the first stores of a new-concept bookshop line in airport terminals, targeting more affluent buyers.

TheBookshop by W H Smith opened in Heathrow Terminal 5 before Christmas; another recently opened in Edinburgh Airport. Surrounded by high-end luxury stores in Terminal 5, the company’s new shop features a “luxury book” section selling expensive coffee-table books, as well as a gift book section.

. . . .

“Bringing six of the writers from our current selection to a such a vibrant environment as Heathrow was really exciting. Our objective was to get the writers one step closer to prospective readers by holding an event that celebrates and shares the very best of new writing in a fun and interactive way for both the writers and the travelling public.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Indie bookstores can’t be replicated by Amazon

20 January 2016

From The Seattle Times:

For years, has been the place to find the cheapest books and in the most convenient way. Now, Amazon is trying to emulate the neighborhood bookstores we adore with its new brick-and-mortar location in University Village.

But places like Third Place Books, The Elliott Bay Book Company and my own place of work, A Book For All Seasons, can never be replaced. The experience of an indie bookstore just can’t be bought.

People won’t go to Amazon’s bookstore for enjoyment. The model is utilitarian, impersonal and cold. And with the rise of Amazon’s Kindle, customers risk losing contact with the heart of the book industry.

. . . .

At your local independent bookstore, we want people to browse on their own time, on their own terms. We have recommendations scattered throughout the store — but that’s not why you come. You come because you want to make a discovery, one that will be your own.Why would I go to a bookstore where all the work has been done for me? People are unique. We don’t want to feel like another data point, another sale in the machine that tells the company how many books to buy. Indie bookstores also use sales data, but we leave ample room for experimentation and improvisation. If I remember an amazing book from my childhood that I think we should carry, I can tell my boss. We have the freedom to experiment, which means our customers do, too.

Link to the rest at The Seattle Times

PG says that, for some people, bookstores are a lifestyle, maybe with a little virtue-signalling thrown in.

PG just wants to find a good book that he will enjoy. He trusts the collective judgment of the Amazon customer reviews and also-boughts more than he does the recommendation of a random bookstore employee, no matter how unique and virtuous that employee may be.


13 January 2016

From BiblioRemedy:

Bibliotherapy is the art of matching people with the books that correspond to particular situations. Bibliotherapy, while often used in traditional forms of therapy, has expanded to include work with book professionals who are not trained therapists. At BiblioRemedy, we tailor our reading recommendations to each client’s needs. It is our mission to connect people with stories in order to enrich their lives.

Why choose bibliotherapy? Perhaps you are overwhelmed by the number of books published each year. Perhaps you have something going on in your life, and you want to read about a similar situation (or you want to escape!). Or perhaps you just want some good book recommendations.

BiblioRemedy offers detailed bibliotherapy, as well as a more casual conversation about books, to help you choose what to read. We even offer a personal shopping service.

. . . .

Bibliotherapy Session

In-person or remote via Skype or telephone. $115. Cost includes 45-minute consultation, complete “prescription” of five to seven books within 72 hours, and follow-up (to be determined with client). Each BiblioRemedy client receives a one-time 20% discount for their purchase at the Morris book shop, in-store or online.

Link to the rest at BiblioRemedy

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