For the moment, Amazon Books is probably just a highly interestingÂ experiment — similar toÂ other recent attemptsÂ to cross the divide fromÂ online to brick and mortar –Â Â but if the experiment catches on, itÂ couldÂ represent a new stage in the evolution of bookstores.
There’s something about the movementÂ of online to offline* that feels different withÂ Amazon, though. The Atlantic (“Did Amazon Just Replace the Public Library?“) talks about how some of that online curating shapes up in the physical bookstore, but it’s not clear to me how online browsing habits translate to how we browse in actual stores:Â “The selection of books on display, too, is determined by the community. (‘The books in our store are selected based on Amazon.com customer ratings, pre-orders, sales, popularity on Goodreads, and our curatorsâ€™ assessments,â€’Amazon notes.) Instead of the Employee Picks shelves that are mainstays at local bookshops, Amazonâ€™s store gives prominent placement to books that are â€œHighly Rated (4.8 Stars & Above).â€
There’s even speculationÂ of coordinating author book signings in specific regions with Amazon bookstores, which if done right is actually kind of brilliant, consideringÂ the kind of data Amazon has at its disposal with GoodReads and years of Amazon.com user behavior data. Which authors would most likely generate the biggest crowds? When are the optimal times to schedule an author talk during the week? How much is an author talk worth in terms of book sales? The possibilities are tantalizing! And hey, I’d shop at an Amazon bookstore — combiningÂ crowd-sourced reviews with Amazon.com prices sounds rather appealing at first glance.
Ars Technica (“Amazonâ€™s first brick-and-mortar store: One big ad for the Amazon app“) wrote up their account on their visit to the Amazon bookstore, deciding that it felt too much like a gadget store than a bookstore. But then again, isn’t this already a realityÂ of many present-day bookstores? Larger bookstore retailers sell books, but they also sell book-related content, and that often includes the devices that we read our e-books on. That’s unlikely to change anytime soon. Marketwatch (“Amazonâ€™s new Seattle store can help sell books and promote products“) has a similar response: “itâ€™s more of a Kindle store disguised as a bookstore.”
The Atlantic in that previously mentioned article, has some usefulÂ thoughts on community towards the end (you can probably skip the weird beginning paragraphÂ about Apple religious revivalism):“Which is also to say that Amazon Books is trying to be a place of communityâ€”a place where people will meet and hang out. A place that celebrates both introspection and extroversion. A place much like Appleâ€™s buzzing, light-flooded, free-wifi-enabled templesâ€”only with the tech gadgets on display being, for the most part, books.”Here’s the most interesting partÂ — what if the Amazon bookstore, withÂ its unusual blending ofÂ physical space and curated online community reviews, starts to nudge how libraries function?
“But it also means that Amazon Books could become something else in the process, emulating institutions that have been their own kinds of cathedrals: libraries. Which have traditionally been just what Amazon is aiming to create: spaces that are premised on books, but realized by community. The books here may be bought rather than borrowed, certainly, but in terms of the space created, the goal is the same. Amazon Books is a store doing the work of a cultural institution. Itâ€™s about commerce, yes, but itâ€™s also about collectivity. It is, in form if not in name, a library. And its librarians are the same people who serve as curators for amazon.com: fellow customers.”
* Speaking of which, all of this reminded me of another phenomena: “We Need a Word for That Thing Where a Digital Thing Appears in the Physical World” (also via The Atlantic)