With Amazon Books, Jeff Bezos Is Solving Digital Retail’s Biggest Design Flaw

15 February 2017

From Fast Code Design:

Amazon is planning to open at least six bookstores across the country by the end of 2017.

Technically the stores are still an experiment. But after visiting one it’s clear that this is in some ways an ingenious refinement of the bookstore idea—what Warby Parker is to eyeglasses and Shake Shack is to fast food, Amazon Books is to Barnes & Noble. The store solves one of the biggest problems with online shopping: discoverability. The solution isn’t derived by stocking an infinite number of books; it’s just the opposite—this bookstore uses data-driven design to increase the likelihood that you will pick up a book that you didn’t know you wanted to read.

. . . .

Walmart acquired for $3 billion at least in part to figure out what to do with all those stores across the country. The competitive edge that Amazon has is its trove of consumer data, which allows the company to experiment and optimize—even if that means failing repeatedly—until it gets the formula just right.

. . . .

“I’ve been asked for 20 years, ‘Will you guys ever open physical stores?'” Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos tells me during an interview at his offices in November. “And I’ve answered pretty much the same way the whole time, which is that we will if we have a differentiated idea. You know it can’t be a me-too offering, because the physical world is so well-served already.”

. . . .

So what makes Amazon Books different? The first thing you’ll notice is that all of the books are facing out so that the cover is on full display. For a company that counts frugality as a core principle, stocking books in the least space-efficient way possible doesn’t seem to make much sense. But Amazon didn’t do it by accident; this was A/B/C tested. When the store concept was being tested in a warehouse south of town, the company procured old books from Goodwill and created three aisles for customers to browse.

“In one aisle we had all the books face out,” says Jennifer Cast, an early Amazon employee who returned after a long hiatus to oversee the Amazon Books rollout. “In another aisle we had 50-50, and another aisle we had two-thirds/one-third.” The face-out aisle won, customers liked it more. “What we realized is we felt sorry for the books that were spine out because they didn’t get to shine,” says Cast. “And your eye was drawn to the face-out books.”

. . . .

“If you walk into Amazon Books, the physical store, with a preconceived notion of the book you want,” Bezos says, “there’s a good chance you’re going to walk out disappointed.” There are only a few thousand titles in the store. But nothing here has less than a 4.6 out of a 5-star rating. And there’s a placard below each book offering some kind of Amazon-derived metadata about the title. Under Hillbilly Elegy there was an excerpt from an online customer review, the book Sprint had an “If you like . . . then try” suggestion, and The Way of the Shepherd touted that “92% of customers rated this five stars.”

Link to the rest at Fast Code Design

This Small Village In Spain Is Home To More Books Than People

12 February 2017

From All That is Interesting:

Imagine a small medieval town behind a high wall. A castle stands on one end, and all around are vineyards and fields of wheat. Imagine that within the walls the entire town is devoted to reading and writing. Imagine that the entire town is, in essence, one magical bookstore.

One of many European wonders, this fairytale for bibliophiles exists in Spain. The place is called Urueña, and it is only a two hour drive northwest from Madrid. The town sits within a medieval wall, surrounded by vast plains, in the region of Castilla y León. In recent years, it has transformed itself into a Villa del Libro, a village that celebrates books.

. . . .

Fewer than 200 people live in Urueña, according to the 2014 census. But these few villagers run 12 different bookstores, meaning that there’s one bookstore for every sixteen or so people. Some are general interest shops; others specialize in old and rare books. One focuses on the region of Castilla y León, another on children’s books. A shop called El 7 Bookshop specializes in books about bullfighting. Another concentrates its collection on books about wine, and this one is called The Cellar.

Link to the rest at All That is Interesting

PG says there are some nice photos at the link.

Are Bookworms Killing The Bookstore?

12 February 2017

From BookRiot:

Here in Memphis, The Booksellers is going belly up – causing an emotional shock among my friends almost as great as the election. Since I’m a senior citizen Book Rioter, I’ve seen countless bookstores come and go. I remember the thrill of their openings and the depression of their closings. I know of only one bookstore older than myself, and I think I’ll outlive it. But hell, nothing seems to last anymore. I’m truly sad bookstores are going out of business, but aren’t we to blame?


Among my bookish friends lamenting the demise of our favorite bookstore, we feel something significant has changed in our lives. The Booksellers used to be Davis-Kidd Booksellers, which at one time had several locations across Tennessee, with legions of devoted fans. Evidently not enough. Will any bookstore stay in business in these changing technological times?

I admit my guilt. I’ve bought dozens of books this month.  None from a new bookstore. I now prefer digital books – either Kindle editions or Audible audiobooks. I own over two thousand books I carry around in my iPhone 6s Plus. I’d need a Class 4 truck do that with hardbacks.

. . . .

I went to Barnes & Noble Monday, our last remaining bookstore selling new books, and spent $35. But I bought two expensive computer magazines and a remaindered coloring book – no new books. For over forty years in my younger life, I’d visit bookstores two or three times a week, always hanging out in the science and science fiction sections. My Barnes & Noble have large sections for those books. However, I didn’t even glance at them. I’ve decided it’s unfair to use their shelves for perusing books I would only buy at Amazon.

Link to the rest at BookRiot

Barnes & Noble’s smart new restaurant concept has all the makings of a bestseller

9 February 2017

From The Minneapolis Star-Tribune:

Go figure. The most impressive chain restaurant to land in the Twin Cities in — well, I can’t remember when — is located inside a bookstore.

Last fall, when Barnes & Noble announced plans to include Barnes & Noble Kitchen as a part of the relocation and reinvention of the company’s 25-year-old Galleria location, my knee-jerk response was “color me skeptical.” Anyone who encountered the dreary, prepackaged fare at the store’s somnolent, Starbucks-fueled cafe probably had the same reaction.

Color me corrected.

The bookseller is following the example of other retailers — including Anthropologie, Urban Outfitters and Restoration Hardware — that have recently discovered that good food served in an attractive setting can act as a powerful customer magnet. It’s hardly rocket science. Department stores have been doing the same thing for generations.

. . . .

A book club could easily convene over the shareable dishes, which echo Feeley’s straightforward approach to modernizing classics while using first-rate ingredients.

Kudos to the chunky, brimming-with-cilantro guacamole with crisp, salty tortilla chips (crank up the heat by adding a smoky tomatillo salsa), and the tahini-laced hummus, spread across sturdy house-baked lavash.

But top honors belong to the generous hunk of imported Italian burrata — mozzarella’s upper-tax-bracket sibling — that’s presented with toasted bread, a lively basil pistou and roasted tomatoes, the oven slowly but surely intensifying their flavor. Don’t miss it.

. . . .

Although it doesn’t quite feel that way, the restaurant is located in the basement (or “Valet Level” in Galleria-speak, which surely ranks as an all-time favorite Edina-based euphemism). The saving grace is a bank of windows, which contribute much-needed sunlight but unfortunately also offer a view that’s primarily parked cars. Remember, it’s a shopping mall, not an arboretum.

Link to the rest at Minneapolis Star-Tribune and thanks to WHM for the tip.

Closure of Fifth Avenue Books in Hillcrest part of changing industry

8 February 2017

From The San Diego Union-Tribune:

Not every book has a happy ending. Not every bookstore, either.

That’s been true for a while, and now add to the casualty list Fifth Avenue Books, a Hillcrest mainstay for 30 years, which is closing its doors at the end of February, putting three employees out of work.

Owner Robert Schrader said his used bookstore, known for the size and variety of its inventory (40,000 titles), has been losing money for several years, most recently about $1,000 a week. While he had hoped the drought was temporary, he now sees it as inescapable: “The traditional brick-and-mortar bookstore simply can’t survive in the age of online book selling.”

. . . .

Sales of e-readers have flattened and the number of stores nationwide has risen, at least as measured by membership in the American Booksellers Association. Bookstore sales through the first 11 months of 2016 were up 3.4 percent compared to the same period in 2015, to about $10.5 billion, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Book sellers are carving out specialty niches and emphasizing author events, hand-picked selections for customers, the “shop local” movement, and other features not available with online merchants.

. . . .

So where some see an inevitable march toward bookstore oblivion, others see signs of hope.

Which is why, in the same week Schrader was announcing the closure of Fifth Avenue Books, another used bookstore just a few miles away was marking a different milestone. Verbatim Books was celebrating its first anniversary.

. . . .

Used bookstores are in some ways the unwanted stepchild of the publishing industry. The only one who makes any money when a used book is sold is the seller — not the author, not the publishing house, not the printer.

But the stores consume a significant slice of the book pie. In a September survey by the New York-based Codex Group, about 11 percent of 4,600 people who had purchased books in the previous month bought them used. That compared to 33 percent who bought (or received as gifts) new books, said Peter Hildick-Smith, president of Codex.

“It’s always been a fairly busy little sub-economy,” he said.

And when the digital age disrupted the industry, used bookstores, with their lower prices, were better positioned to survive. That’s one reason San Diego, like many other cities, has more used stores than new ones.

Link to the rest at San Diego Union-Tribune and thanks to Dave for the tip.

BAM! Publish: A Vanity Press?

6 February 2017

From Indies Unlimited:

It’s a common dream among first-time authors: you walk into your favorite local bookstore and there’s Your Book, sitting on the shelf for everyone to see – and buy. Alas, it’s unlikely to happen if you’re an indie author. If it happens at all, it will require a lot of hard work and persuasive energy on your part, as well as a store manager who’s willing to take a chance on an unknown author.

Books-A-Million, the second-largest bookstore chain in the United States, has developed a route for indies to get their books onto store shelves – but there’s a catch.

. . . .

This past November, Books-A-Million launched a revamp of its self-publishing platform. It’s now called BAM! Publish and it’s reportedly operated in partnership with FastPencil, which calls itself “the world’s largest publishing platform with hundreds of thousands of members worldwide”.

To be honest, I think Books-A-Million is only using FastPencil’s publishing software, and has contracted author services to somebody else. Here’s why: I gave up my email address to get a BAM! Publish bookstore marketing guide. When I immediately unsubscribed, it turned out the mailing list to which I’d been added belonged to Infinity Publishing – a vanity press in Pennsylvania with a 100 percent negative rating from the Better Business Bureau.

Prices for BAM! Publish’s services sure look like a vanity press is involved. It’s free to set up your book on their platform, but even if you only plan to release it to friends and family, the link for ordering copies costs $59. Global distribution costs $299 ($349 for print and eBook). Editing services are similarly pricey, and marketing services run from $279 to $569.

Link to the rest at Indies Unlimited and thanks to Deb for the tip.

Balancing the books: how Waterstones came back from the dead

3 February 2017

From The Guardian:

Late on Thursday afternoon, would-be wizards across the UK dropped what they were doing to join the professors of Hogwarts for Harry Potter night. At 6pm in the basement of Waterstones’ six-storey London Piccadilly building, staff were scurrying around with bowls of jellybeans and bottles of raspberry lemonade, but the Harrys and Hermiones were nowhere to be seen.

A couple of elderly customers looked faintly disgruntled to find their favourite section closed for a private party. Two young sisters, Alex, 11, and eight-year-old Polly, fidgeted by the closed door clutching a box of quidditch balls, while Yang, a 22-year-old physics student from Korea, appeared baffled.

Five minutes later they started to arrive, threading their way through book-browsers on the hushed shop floor. Young women pulled Hufflepuff blazers and Hogwarts ties out of backpacks, a small girl produced an owl cage, a larger one donned scholar’s robes. Soon, the queue snaked up the stairs and across the ground floor. “I’m reading the fifth book again at the moment,” said 28-year-old

Alex, jiggling her wand. “This is the third event I’ve been to and it’s quiet compared with the launch of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child last year, when they transformed the second floor into Diagon Alley.”

In many of of the chain’s 275 branches across the UK, similar scenes were being played out. “Our first wizards have arrived for #harrypotterbooknight” tweeted staff at the Bradford store, who had earlier professed themselves “totally giddy kippers” at the prospect of the night’s revels.

But Harry Potter night wasn’t the only cause for celebration for staff and customers of the 35-year-old company. A day earlier it had revealed that it had gone back into profit for the first time since the recession under the leadership of its very own wizard, banker turned career bookseller James Daunt, who was brought in to rescue the chain in 2011 after a buyout by the Russian billionaire Alexander Mamut.

. . . .

With a mixture of tough love and an unshakeable belief in the power of the physical book, which seemed quixotic in the era of e-readers and online discounting, Daunt began to turn things around. He closed underperforming stores and fired 200 booksellers, at the same time as declaring that his managers would be given back responsibility for their own stock, because what sold in Hampstead might not go down well in the Highlands. One of his boldest moves was to inform publishers that he would no longer do business through sales reps and they could no longer buy window space – which meant turning his back on £27m a year.

Instead, a small team of buyers – in close consultation with Daunt himself – would select titles to feature as books of the month across all the stores, while individual managers were free to tailor much of their stock to their customers’ tastes. One of the centrally chosen books of the month for 2016 was a historical novel, The Essex Serpent, from Serpent’s Tail, an inprint of indie publisher Profile Books. Its author, Sarah Perry, had written one previous novel, which had been respectfully received before sinking beneath the waves.

. . . .

“Waterstones’ role in the success of The Essex Serpent is nothing less than extraordinary,” says Franklin. “They have – to date, and they haven’t finished yet – bought 100,740 copies of the hardback. And that gives them a 70.53% market share.”

. . . .

When a book has become as successful as The Essex Serpent, it’s easy to forget how it so easily could not have happened. For a tiny outfit like Somerset-based children’s publisher Chicken House Books, selection by Waterstones can make the difference between many thousands of sales and virtually none at all. Chicken House has had four of its titles selected as children’s books of the month – the latest being Maz Evans’ debut novel Who Let the Gods Out, a “freewheeling fantasy” in which a 12-year-old boy finds his home near Stonehenge beset by bumbling Greek gods.

Barry Cunningham, who set up Chicken House in Frome in 2000, points out that the relationship with Waterstones doesn’t simply involve selling the book. “They’re experts in how to catch the fleeting attention of buyers, so they’ll advise on how a book looks, the words on the back, or even the title. In this particular case, there’s a lightning flash running around the edge. They said they really liked that, but could we bolster it.”

Part of the new strategy has been to customise orders, so as to drastically reduce the numbers of unsold copies that are returned to publishers. A report from the US in 2013 revealed an average return rate across the bookselling trade of 15%. When Daunt took over, the percentage returned by Waterstones was “far higher than that”, but has now been reduced to 2-3%.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Waterstones back in the black after five years

2 February 2017

From The Bookseller:

Waterstones has reported a profit for the first time under the ownership of Russian businessman Alexander Mamut and direction of its m.d. James Daunt.

Boosted by “better standards of bookselling”, the 270-store chain saw sales rise by 4% to £409.1m in the year to 30th April 2016, helping it achieve an operating profit of £18.8m, resulting in a pretax profit of £9.9m, after finance costs, compared to a pretax loss of £4.5m a year earlier.

Waterstones’ m.d James Daunt told The Bookseller that the company benefitted from a slow down in the growth of e-book sales and enticed customers back to its high street shops my making them “better, different, nicer” environments to be in. He stressed the importance of the booksellers. “Everything relies on bookselling and offering a better service around bookselling,” Daunt said. “People come into our shops for the knowledge and the service, the success of The Essex Serpent (Waterstones’ 2016 Book of the Year by Sarah Perry, Serpent’s Tail), shows you that. Our support meant a book which would otherwise have achieved modest sales became a bestseller in the most competitive month of December. That is all about the service from bookselling. It is not about posters on the underground, but individual recommendations.”

. . . .

Higher sales of non-book products also helped the chain, now accounting for 12% of the company’s turnover. But while Waterstones plans to grow this to 15% over the next three years, the company will always revolve around sales of books, Daunt said. “We are still absolutely 80% a seller of books. I think non-book product simply makes bookshops better. People want the option of buying a children’s toy or stationery as well as books,” he said.

. . . .

“Amazon is our only real competitor,” he said.

. . . .

Daunt said the company was not missing sales from its direct e-books store, after closing it in May last year to direct customers to Kobo’s. “E-books are a duopoly market and we never really competed in it,” he said. “It is a big boys game.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

College Accused of Monopolizing Textbook Market

30 January 2017

From Courthouse News:

The local, off-campus competitor of an Illinois community college bookstore claims in court that the school is trying to put it out of business by selling textbooks below cost and withholding course book information.

Joliet Textbooks, which owns a store selling textbooks and related items across from the entrance of Joliet Junior College’s campus in Joliet, Ill., filed a lawsuit Tuesday in Will County accusing JJC of violating the Illinois Antitrust Act.

The off-campus store claims that JJC “engaged in a concerted scheme to thwart competition in the market for the sale of used and new textbooks and to destroy competition in the marketplace by undermining plaintiff’s business through anti-competitive pricing strategies.”

The school’s official bookstore, a half-mile from Joliet Textbooks, “enjoys certain institutional advantages over a private sector competitor like plaintiff,” such as not paying rent and not needing to generate a profit to stay open, the complaint states.

Both stores purchase their new and used textbooks from the same sources, says Joliet Textbooks, and the standard practice is to charge 20 to 30 percent above cost.

However, JJC has allegedly been selling textbooks to its students below cost and is giving out rebates and calculating sales taxes on the artificially lower price.

Link to the rest at Courthouse News and thanks to Nate for the tip.

PG is not familiar with the Illinois Antitrust Act, so he can’t opine about the plaintiff’s chances in court.

He was, however, reminded, of an antitrust suit by the American Booksellers Association and a number of independent bookstores against Barnes & Noble and Borders in 2001. The principal claim was that the big bookstores received secret discounts from big publishers and distributors. The case was ultimately settled before a final verdict.

The Life Cycle of the Book

30 January 2017

From Shelf Awareness:

A story titled “The Life Cycle of the Book,” even if it is set at a Wi12 panel, should have a great opening line, and Elizabeth Strout provided a fine one when she remarked at the start of Saturday’s session: “I’m the one who writes the book.”

Moderated by Betsy Burton of the King’s English Bookshop in Salt Lake City, Utah, the panel explored the life cycle of Strout’s bestseller My Name Is Lucy Barton from the perspectives of the author, her agent Molly Friedrich, her Random House editor Susan Kamil, Ruth Liebmann (v-p & director, account marketing, PRH) and bookseller Pete Mulvihill of Green Apple Books in San Francisco, Calif.

“I think that a lot of what an agent does is try to help the author manage expectations, focus on the work, the work; stay honest to the work,” Friedrich said, adding that with Strout’s manuscripts, “she’s been over that work so many times and with such lapidary attention that there’s very, very little to say except to be in a kind of swoon of admiration…. And with Lucy Barton in particular, it was kind of perfect.”

Kamil observed that “editors are like literary shape shifters. We become exactly what our authors need us to become,” and recalled that after reading the Lucy Barton manuscript for the first time, “I can’t quite describe the feeling to you, though as book lovers I’m sure you know what I mean when I say I was stunned and I was speechless…. I also knew it was a masterwork. It’s all about the book. And in this particular case, what a book! I had to get it into the hands of our publishing team.”

Link to the rest at Shelf Awareness

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