Life Among Books

24 November 2015

From The American Booksellers Association:

Bookselling This Week talks to Valerie Koehler, the owner of Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston, Texas.

. . . .

BTW: How did you begin as a bookseller, and how long after starting in bookselling did you begin to feel that you had found a special vocation?

VK: When my husband and I moved our family back to Houston in 1995, we moved into the neighborhood where the bookshop is located. The store, then called Musabelle’s Books, was in existence since 1973. My kids were both in school and I had been considering starting a business that would combine my loves and my strengths. I knew I wanted to be in sales and I love to read and talk about books. I went to the bookshop and volunteered to work there for free. It quickly became painfully obvious that the shop should have gone under at least six years before. The owner was a very kind and knowledgeable book lover, but the business end was not her strength. After a number of months, she offered to sell the shop to me. We borrowed a little bit of money and went bare bones at first.

. . . .

BTW: What do you think are some of the most important changes in bookselling since you bought your store?

VK: When I bought the shop, Amazon was just getting started. We didn’t have a computer or any kind of POS. There were always stacks of catalogs to look through and file! Above The Treeline and Edelweiss has significantly changed our inventory management. Having to compete against Amazon has made us stronger by focusing us on what we do best — curation, customer service, and a smile. We also figured out that we didn’t need the whole pie — just our part — to be profitable and happy.

Link to the rest at The American Booksellers Association

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I worked in a video store for 25 years. Here’s what I learned as my industry died.

21 November 2015

From Vox:

The independent video store where I’ve worked for 15 years is finally dead. After 28 years in business, we succumbed to the “disruption” of Netflix and Hulu, bled to death by the long, slow defection of our customer base. Once we announced our closing, the few who remained mourned — then we locked the doors. Our permanent collection is gone: boxed up and shipped off to the local library.

Videoport, of Portland, Maine, lasted longer than most. It was better than most. It owed its longevity to a single, engaged owner, to strong ties to the local film scene and a collection that put others to shame. I was proud to work there, alongside a staff that paired film knowledge and exceptional customer service skills like few other places I’ve known. We were a fixture in town, until we weren’t.

It hasn’t been so long since independent rental joints had the opposite problem. Before Videoport, I spent 10 years working at Matt & Dave’s Video Venture. In retrospect, it’s hard to believe that our downfall came at the hands of a buyout by a major rental chain. Suspiciously well-dressed guys with clipboards started dropping in; soon enough, we were gone, one of the estimated 30,000 video stores in America gobbled up by Blockbuster or Movie Gallery or Hollywood Video, each eager to dominate the booming VHS rental racket. If only those chains knew that within a decade, they’d be goners too.

I spent 25 years of my life in an industry that no longer exists. Maybe I’m not the most ambitious guy. But that time has provided me with an up-close look at not just how the industry is changing but how people’s tastes, and the culture those tastes create, have changed with it.

. . . .

2) An algorithm is no substitute for human interaction

In the last days of the store, daily life at the store got pretty intense. Longtime customers were bereft. We tried to comfort them, explaining how our owner had ensured that our whole collection would soon be available at the public library — for free, even! It didn’t help much. Almost to a one, they had the same reply: “But you won’t be there to help us.”

. . . .

Over the years, we’d come to know our customers’ tastes, their pet peeves, and their soft spots. Our experience and movie expertise helped us make informed, intuitive leaps to find and fulfill entertainment needs they didn’t even always know they had. I’ve had parents hug me for introducing their kids to Miyazaki and The Iron Giant. Nice old ladies have baked me cookies for starting them off on The Wire. People knew they could come in with the vaguest description — “This guy has an eye patch, and I think there’s a mariachi band” — and we’d figure out they were looking for Cutter’s Way. Other times, they’d take a recommendation for Walking and Talking and come back saying, “Just give me everything Nicole Holofcener’s ever done.” If someone asked me for a great comedy, my first question was invariably, “What’s one comedy you’ve seen that you think is hilarious?” I’ve spent 20 minutes refining exactly how scary was too scary when picking out a horror movie. It’s a skill set you develop, a sensitivity to just the right vibrations of interest and aversion.

If you think I’m overrating the power of these connections, consider this: Years ago, I helped a lovely, seemingly upstanding woman choose from several Shakespeare adaptations. The next week she returned, asking about the relative merits of zombie movies. Interesting, I thought.

She started coming in regularly. After months of recommendations and some earnest cinematic dismantling (“Like a handful of romantic comedies thrown into a blender,” she said of Love, Actually), I became her go-to movie guy. A year later, I became her go-to everything guy when we got married.

. . . .

3) A great video store is pop culture in microcosm

A good video store curates culture. Subjective? Certainly. But who do you want shepherding the legacy of TV and movies — a corporation or a store filled with passionate, knowledgeable movie geeks?

Standing at the center of a video store is to watch the world change, a time lapse of people’s taste. As the years pile up, some things, even popular things, simply fall out of the cultural consciousness. Videoport fastidiously stocked new releases, but the heart of our store was its permanent collection. Not just a “foreign films” header but subsections of Japanese and Hong Kong exploitation. A dedicated Criterion Collection section next to British comedy. Anime and Bollywood, documentaries, the dark, glittering jewel that was the renowned cult movies section. It took years to build that inventory: A great video store spends its entire life span building up a representation of film history shaped and curated and always there. Things left, of course, but always in response to viewers’ needs and our design.

In a store with limited space, the decision to keep a movie or TV series on the shelf was a constant battleground, a microcosm of the battle between economics and artistic integrity. It was tough to get cut from Videoport: A DVD case is just half an inch wide, and if one person a year rents a copy of the weird little 1980 cop comedy The Black Marble, then we’d ride that out because enough employees went to bat for it. Even the decision to cut loose an insignificant, frankly abysmal little comedy like Jury Duty was agonized over — before it would end up in the sale bin, that movie had to pass through any number of filters.

The final filter was the pull list. Every so often the list would appear, a printout of movies and shows that hadn’t been rented in a long time, typically a year or more. Any titles crossed off the list were saved. Any still there at the end of the week were out.

. . . .

By contrast: Netflix routinely adds and removes films at a whim based almost exclusively on licensing agreements.

. . . .

4) Customer loyalty won’t save you

Videoport had loyal customers, customers who didn’t abandon us, even at the end. Sensing the air of growing unease at the thinning lines at the store made some regulars come in even more, sometimes dragging friends along and extolling our virtues. There was an elderly couple who loved my recommendations so much I’m genuinely worried they’re just staring at a blank screen right now. But video stores — like bookstores, record stores, and arthouse theaters—have died as the lure of online convenience overcomes even the most stalwart patrons. In the final days of the store, we saw a lot of once-familiar faces as they showed friends the great video store where they used to rent. A few had the decency to look sheepish, but the depressing, infuriating, majority offered nothing more than platitudes about us lasting longer than they’d expected before taking a few photos.

The dwindling number of employees who stayed through the ever-leaner years did our best to stem the tide. Being overeducated, underemployed movie geeks, this meant counting on the power of passionate reason to counter the flood of fleeing customers. I started a weekly blog/newsletter for the store. I intended it to be a place for customers and staff to continue the ongoing movie conversation through movie reviews, debates, and think pieces about the store and movies in general. In theory it was, apart from being a chance for me to exercise my brain and writing skills, a way to bind customers to the store by giving them a sense of ownership in the place. In practice, as the customers drifted away, it became more like a running, increasingly desperate 10-year argument as to why our video store deserved to exist, written by me.

Link to the rest at Vox and thanks to Stephen, who says this could also apply to book stores, for the tip.

Indie Booksellers Power An Anti-Amazon Book Club

17 November 2015

From The Huffington Post:

In the bookselling world, it’s been a week of role reversals.

Last week, Amazon threw open the doors to its first brick-and-mortar bookstore, Amazon Books, in Seattle. The store features books selected based on demand, according to a number of metrics mostly derived from Amazon’s sales. Most are promoted with a card displaying a glowing user review from the site — a digital comment turned into a facsimile of that hallmark of the indie bookstore, the shelf talker (a typically handwritten personal recommendation from a bookstore employee).

Then, on Thursday, literary design startup Litographs launched a counterattack in partnership with four indie bookstores across the country. Litographs Book Club is taking one book recommendation from each bookstore each season — four at a time — and sharing the handwritten shelf talkers online.

. . . .

“Bookstores have long known that recommending books is a craft, and it’s one they’ve perfected over the course of helping millions find their next great book,” declares the press page for Litographs Book Club, in a not-so-veiled rebuke to Amazon’s algorithm-driven book recommendations.

“We feel comfortable in the hands of people whose job it is to send you home with a good book,” explained Jack Neary, Litographs’ head of community, in an email to The Huffington Post. The hand-penned recommendations, he said, are “a natural extension of the warm customer service you’ll receive when you spend time browsing in a bookstore.”

Just as importantly, this structure retains the influence of personal taste and enthusiasm. Litographs’ official description emphasizes, “we’ve given our favorite indie bookstore clerks full autonomy in their choices.” These idiosyncratic picks will very likely differ from the typical bestseller roundups and book-club standbys.

Link to the rest at The Huffington Post and thanks to Nate for the tip.

Booksellers anticipate Black Friday and inaugural Civilised Saturday

16 November 2015

From The Bookseller:

Bookshops are gearing up to hold the first Civilised Saturday, with events and discounts to attract people into stores cited as the “antithesis to Black Friday”.

Black Friday falls on the day after Thansksgiving in the US (27th November), with retailers offering massive discount on products.

This year is set to be the biggest UK Black Friday on record, with consumer spending expected to hit £1.07bn, a 32% rise on the same day last year, according to analysts Experian/IMRG.

Coinciding with the final pre-Christmas pay weekend for most people, last year the offer received widespread press attention when at least three people were arrested and police were called to supermarkets amid fears of crowd surges as shoppers tussled to get the best deals.

This year the Booksellers Association has encouraged booksellers to host a Civilised Saturday on 28th November as the antidote to Black Friday, calling on bookshops to provide a calmer counterpoint to the mayhem by serving prosecco and cake to customers while playing classical music, for example.

. . . .

Lesslie Oliver from The Bookworm in Selkirk, which opened in July, said: “Last year Black Friday was all a little bit bonkers, wasn’t it? I don’t think the Black Friday proposition – everything sold at a huge discount – is really the right proposition for books and book lovers. I think Civilised Saturday works much better for bookshops and our customers. I think it is a lovely idea.”

Jasmine Denholme from Wenlock Books in Shropshire said: “We are going to have a pleasant afternoon in the bookshop, celebrating, handing out prosecco and, in the afternoon, we will have an afternoon tea, handing out cakes and fresh coffee.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Barnes & Noble Chairman Creates TV Ad With Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga

13 November 2015

From The Wall Street Journal:

Leonard Riggio, who built Barnes & Noble Inc. into the world’s largest bookstore chain, has been a relatively low-key presence in recent years. He hasn’t been chief executive for over a decade, and has reduced his ownership stake.

But now the 74-year-old is swinging into action to help the retailer attempt an image makeover for the high-stakes holiday season.

Mr. Riggio created the company’s upcoming holiday TV commercial that features singers Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga and will debut Monday during the national morning talk shows. He conceived and wrote the spot himself, and recruited the talent.

In the commercial, Mr. Bennett and Lady Gaga separately walk the aisles of a fictitious Barnes & Noble store while looking for a gift for each other. As they browse, viewers hear them singing “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”

The ad is part of an effort to tap into an emotional connection between the bookstore chain and consumers.

“I’d been thinking about physical books, digital books, future store concepts, and the essence of what is it about us that makes us who we are,” says Mr. Riggio, who remains chairman of the company and is the largest shareholder, “The idea of the meeting place, the piazza, is so much of what we’ve become across the country.”

. . . .

The company needs a boost. Retail revenue declined 1.7% in the fiscal first quarter while digital content sales, once considered a vital benchmark, fell 28%. Still, Barnes & Noble is optimistic. The bookseller forecasts core comparable sales at its 647 stores will increase 1% in fiscal 2016, up from a 0.5% gain in the fiscal year ended May 2. In August the company spun off its college bookstore group.

Traffic at the Barnes & Noble website was smaller in September than in September 2013, according to comScore Inc. With the National Retail Federation expecting 46% of holiday browsing and buying to be done online this year, that will pose a major challenge for Barnes & Noble and put more pressure on its physical stores to do well.

. . . .

In the ad, the two performers eventually bump into each other and exchange gifts, a jazz book for him, a fashion title for her. Before the commercial ends, viewers hear the tagline Barnes & Noble is hoping will strike a chord with book buyers: You never know who you’ll meet at Barnes & Noble.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire)

A long time ago, PG worked for a large advertising agency. Whenever the CEO of a client suggested an idea for a commercial, eyes rolled all across the agency.

You couldn’t just brush it off. You probably had to make the commercial, spending a big chunk of the ad budget in the process. Everyone was worried about showing up for a presentation with a good commercial that only tangentially resembled the CEO’s idea, so you had to hold your nose and shoot a bad commercial that faithfully followed what had popped into the CEO’s head.

Friendship aside, it cost a ton of money to hire Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga, money that’s no longer available for effective BN advertising and promotion, so there’s a double hit.

Perhaps, at age 74, Mr. Riggio has discovered his inner advertising genius, but PG wouldn’t bet on that.

PG wonders if nursing homes are the only place where people still watch television without a fast forward button.

Barnes & Noble’s New CEO Sees Non-Book Items as Key to Holidays

9 November 2015

From Bloomberg:

For Barnes & Noble Inc., it’s going to be a hands-on holiday season, said new Chief Executive Officer Ron Boire.

The biggest U.S. bookstore chain is counting on new do-it-yourself merchandise such as Raspberry Pi computer kits, art supplies, journals and even a Benedict Cumberbatch coloring book to lure shoppers at Christmas and beyond. Toys and other non-book items have been Barnes & Noble’s fastest-growing category, rising at a double-digit pace, Boire said.

“It’s going to continue to grow,” he said this week during a tour of the company’s store in New York’s bustling Union Square.

For the New York-based bookseller, whose shares have fallen 12 percent this year, the additions are part of an effort to diversify its selection to compete with Inc.

. . . .

Long known for its author talks, Barnes & Noble is now sponsoring events such as coloring-book days and a coding and 3-D printing weekends. (It also conveniently sells a $350 da Vinci Jr. 3-D printer.) The new merchandise is prompting kids to drag their parents into the store, Gabelli & Co. analyst John Tinker said.

“It’s all about the toys, the games and all the other stuff,” Tinker said. “You’re in the entertainment business; you’ve got to entertain. Once you buy on Amazon, they’ve lost you.”

Link to the rest at Bloomberg

Book Publishers Hope Holidays Bring Cheer

7 November 2015

From The Wall Street Journal:

The biggest bets are on familiar names and faces, a reminder of how much track records matter to readers at this time of the year. HarperCollins Publishers, for example, has printed 700,000 hardcover copies of Mitch Albom’s “The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto,” a story narrated by a guitarist touched by the supernatural. HarperCollins, like The Wall Street Journal, is owned by News Corp.

Tuesday also marks the return of Jon Meacham, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author. Random House is printing 390,000 copies of Mr. Meacham’s new work, “Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush,” making it the publisher’s biggest nonfiction work of the year.

. . . .

The relatively large print runs come at a time when the digital book market is in flux. E-book sales in the first half were down 10% from a year earlier, according to an industry report, a decline that industry executives attribute in part to higher prices set by the major publishers.

“There may not be one stand-out title yet, but I think the breadth and complexion of this holiday’s new titles is better than in 2014,” said Mary Amicucci, Barnes & Noble Inc.’s vice president of adult trade and children’s books.

The holiday season for publishers is particularly critical this year because the first six months have been disappointing. Through June, publisher net sales for consumer books were down 1.4% at $3.09 billion, according to the Association of American Publishers’ monthly StatShot report, which collects sales data from more than 1,200 publishers in the U.S.

. . . .

The bookselling retail landscape is unsettled. Barnes & Noble has continued to close stores this year and now operates 647 nationwide, down from a peak of 726 for the fiscal year ended Jan. 31, 2009.

To boost sales, the retailer is bringing back a wall of signed titles for the holidays, a popular and successful promotion last year. Barnes & Noble has also strengthened its educational toys and games offerings, a category that enjoyed a 17.5% revenue increase for the first fiscal quarter ended Aug. 1. Still, its first fiscal-quarter retail revenue fell 1.7% to $939 million, reflecting in part store closings and lower online sales.

Elsewhere, Books-A-Million Inc., the nation’s second-largest publicly traded bookstore chain, could soon go private.

. . . .

A survey taken in September of nearly 5,000 book buyers by industry researcher Codex Group LLC found that Amazon accounted for 68% of all online sales of new physical books and e-books, up 7% compared with a similar survey taken in November 2014.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire)

Amazon VP On Amazon’s New Bookstore: ‘We Have No Idea What’s Going to Happen’

7 November 2015

From Publishers Weekly:

Never has the opening of a new bookstore been written about more than the launch of Amazon Books in the University Village shopping mall in Seattle on November 3. In spite of all the speculation about what Amazon is really up to with the store, Jennifer Cast, v-p of Amazon Books, said that the objective from the beginning has been to create a place where customers can discover and pick up great books. She downplayed the idea that the store was a prototype for other outlets that would sell a range of items that Amazon offers online. “The store is called Amazon Books,” she noted.

Cast is a self-described book lover who joined Amazon in 1996, a year after the company was founded. After being away from the company for 13 years, mostly working for nonprofits, she returned when a former boss told her he had something that would interest her. “I always knew I would return to Amazon,” she said.

. . . .

Once a location was chosen, the Amazon Books team began gathering information about who shops at University Village to help develop its inventory. For example, because the area has lots of families and children, Amazon Books has an extensive children’s section.

Since the store “will be limited by four walls” that can house only between 5,000 and 6,000 titles, Cast said she wanted to use the data that Amazon has on books to develop a mix of titles that would be different from traditional stores, and so the decision was made to focus on “great books.”

. . . .

 Amazon’s main objective in using the data is “to surface great books,” she noted—even if those books are not necessarily new titles. The result is a store that has a large share of books by authors who have won a range of writing awards, and where older books may be displayed next to a brand-new ones. Cast said the store will carry most bestsellers for a few weeks, but if a title doesn’t receive positive feedback, the store will drop it.

. . . .

 The store has been laid out so as to create a “discovery mecca,” Cast said, adding, “We want people to bump into books that they hadn’t been thinking about.”

. . . .

 While Amazon has certain goals in mind for the store, Cast acknowledged that “we have no idea what is going to happen.” She said Amazon Books is fully prepared to make changes to the store based on the feedback from the community, in typical Amazon fashion. “We are in the learn-listen-adapt mode,” she added.

. . . .

 Although it is very early days for Amazon Books, Cast said she is “very, very hopeful” that the Seattle store will only be the first of a number of Amazon bricks-and-mortar outlets.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly and thanks to Felix for the tip.

Minimum Wage: Increases in Maine and Washington Get Voted Down

6 November 2015

From the American Booksellers Association:

A proposed referendum that would have increased the minimum wage in Portland, Maine, to $15 per hour by 2017 for companies and franchises employing 500 or more people was given a thumbs down by voters on Tuesday.

. . . .

On Tuesday, Tacoma residents were asked to vote on increasing the minimum wage to either $15 immediately or to $12 by 2018. And, by a large margin, voters chose the lesser increase of $12.

Link to the rest at American Booksellers Association

Noting the source of these reports, PG wonders if minimum wage increases aren’t a bigger threat to bookstores than Amazon is.

My 2.5 Star Trip to Amazon’s Bizarre New Bookstore – A former indie bookseller visits the retailer’s brick and mortar store

5 November 2015

From The New Republic:

Amazon’s new brick and mortar bookstore is wildly banal. The only thing it disrupts is foot traffic heading toward a Restoration Hardware. So why does it exist?

Amazon Books—yes, Amazon named their bookstore Amazon Books—is across the street from a Tommy Bahama, at the entrance to an upscale outdoor shopping mall named University Village.

. . . .

When I arrived at eleven there were a dozen people being held outside by a man with a walkie talkie “to prevent overcrowding.” Some in line had heard about the opening on local TV spots. Many took photos in line and again once they were in the store. “Who’s inside?” a woman with three visible bangles asked me. I told her that I did not think any authors were inside, but that the store was opening today.

. . . .

The store is physically odd. It betrays inexperience with retail. The stacks are situated too close to one another so that you have to brush past other browsers—Paco Underhill’s famed “butt brush”—and can’t comfortably bend down to see books on lower shelves. The first display tables are too near the doors, which discourages browsing. Above the shelves along the walls are bays of books, spine out—decoratively arranged overstock.

. . . .

The store assumes familiarity with This goes beyond understanding whether 4.5 stars is, in fact, a good if oddly precise number of stars. A shelf labelled “Most Wishlisted Cookbooks” faced the line of excited customers outside. Goodreads—a property of Amazon—is mentioned in displays. There is a desk labelled Amazon Answers. Presumably the questions asked of Amazon are answered by a human employee of the store, though it’s unclear if some sort of Delphic process involving candles and chanting occurs.

Crucially, books in the store are priced as they are on Amazon’s site.

. . . .

Selection is, of course, limited. Nineteen-Eighty-Four is not present in the store. Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquietude is. RIP, irony, long live a more subtle irony.

Below many books is a small placard—booksellers call them shelf-talkers—giving the book’s average star rating and one of the reviews posted for the book on the site. These blurbs are credited to Amazon account screen names. “Imagine seeing yourself in here” one customer said to another with an identical haircut. Of course these lack the human touch of typical shelf-talkers, but sometimes you have to break a few eggs when you’re taking on those legendarily powerful gatekeepers, indie booksellers writing in unsteady blue ballpoint about books they love.

. . . .

The staff are drawn from within Amazon, from local bookstores, from libraries. Robert Sindelar of Third Place has said that some of his staff were contacted by Amazon recruiters through LinkedIn. Pam Cady, manager of the general books department at University Book Store was contacted as well. Cady received LinkedIn messages and an email. It was very personal in tone, but ended with a simple choice: a button to indicate whether or not she was interested in the offer. “I clicked not interested.”

Amazon Books is paying its booksellers well—wages begin at $18 an hour, with benefits. That’s well above starting rates at most indies; it also comes in ahead of Seattle’s impending $15 minimum wage. The effort Amazon had to exert to recruit these talented booksellers—they were noticeably good at their jobs—and the wages they’ve had to offer, stand in an odd juxtaposition to one of the central ideas of the site.

. . . .

Now, not only are they bringing in gatekeepers (the press release uses the word “curator”) to tweak and hone those lists of books, and to present the books in an attractive and reasonably intelligent manner, but they’ve had to pay them well in order to bring them into the Amazon fold. This is, first, one of Amazon’s occasional seemingly accidental acts of decency in their continued expansion, but it is also a hell of a big asterisk on what has been their guiding principle: that books are all made equal and people can choose what they want with little oversight or guidance.

University Book Store—begun by students in 1900—is just up the road from University Village, and while they serve superficially different markets, it’s difficult not to see Amazon’s choice of location as yet another act of aggression toward indie bookstores, whose owners and employees are particularly suspicious of the company’s motives.

. . . .

Cady had already visited Amazon Books opening morning, as had some of her staff. They spoke about it with exaggerated grimaces, more dismissive than unnerved.

. . . .

The kernel of difference between Amazon’s new store and existing bookstores, according to Amazon, is that their store is stocked using a broader and—the implication is—a more accurate field of data. Take a moment to genuflect if you like. These selections sourced from bestsellers, pre-orders and Goodreads ratings are tweaked by the store’s booksellers. The process offers up some oddities—some books in the fiction section in particular seemed to be from vanity presses. But all in all it’s a good selection. The thing is, independent bookstores have access to lists of bestsellers as well, both in their own store and across independents through analytics subscription programs like Above the Treeline. They also use that data to tweak what they stock. It’s not only not unusual: it’s central to how they do business. If the difference between Amazon Books and indies is whether they use sales data and online recommendations to decide what to stock, there is no difference at all.

. . . .

Nothing in the store is an idea original to Amazon, or even one that hasn’t long been the practice of even the least competent bookstores around the world. There are many bookstores that are worse in every aspect than Amazon’s new venture, to be sure, but not because Amazon has somehow solved the bookstore.

Or, that’s not exactly right. Because Amazon has come up with a solution to the bookstore. The secret is to have such power and buy in such quantity that you can dictate your own discounts to publishers. Buy books by the pallet and then, why not, send six of those to your outlet at the mall under the overpass. That surely helps keep the cost of goods down. Most independent bookstores spend between fifty three and fifty-six percent of their total revenue on inventory. Having already demanded far better margins from publishers, Amazon could spend that money elsewhere in a store’s P&L: on an exorbitant rent, for instance, on better wages, on deep store-wide discounts. The other solution: as always, be big enough to lose money. Amazon has proven the value of that approach for most of the lifespan of the company. Now they’re just implementing that dictum in a corner lot near an Eddie Bauer and a Free People.

If the store is a test model for a potential fleet of Kindle showrooms, it is not a great success.

. . . .

Amazon Books—like the surrounding mall—feels like it’s predicated on anxiety. Its very existence may be meant as an answer to anxieties within the company about a persistent inability to overcome the question of ‘discovery,’ both for Amazon Publishing titles and in general—the company remains dependent on consumers finding products they’re interested elsewhere and then buying them, presumably at a discount, from But other anxieties dictated what the store was allowed to become. The store is aggressively inoffensive. It is nice only insofar as it is bland and has good lighting and they let a customer take his pretty chill dog in. The store is the physical incarnation of a monolithic business of immense wealth that is changing the face of literature itself, but from within it is all very boring, very safe, in an upscale grey palette kind of way.

Link to the rest at The New Republic and thanks to Mitch for the tip.

The big takeaway from the article for PG is that Amazon is so anxious about readers not being able to find any books they want to buy on that it opened a bookstore.

That is so understandable. Sometimes, two or three seconds may pass without Amazon selling a book. In Luxembourg.

Sends chills up and down PG’s spine.

In addition to being a former independent bookseller, the author of the article currently works “in independent publishing” in Portland. PG did a little checking and discovered that “independent publishing” doesn’t mean self-publishing, but rather that the author is a marketing manager for Melville House.

PG doesn’t know whether the rumor is true that ADS is infused into the water at Melville House or not. He’s open to the idea that other means of distribution may be used.


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