Isn’t it an oxymoron to think of Amazon as a brick and mortar store? Founder, Jeff Bezos was considered the disruptor when he turned the e-commerce paradigm on its head, some twenty years ago. Then eight years ago when it's publishing platform Kindle transitioned from the real world of hardbound books, bookstores and libraries to the virtual world of bits, bytes and pixels was a major leap in putting self-publishers in the driver’s seat. It was a time for the legacy publishing world to take pause.
Today, we will explore how a return to getting physical with the printed word in the real world is making a comeback.
Libraries Evolving with New Technology . . .
In a previous post, I’ve reviewed innovative automation like the SELF-e platform, which makes eBooks available in public libraries across the country, providing local authors with an opportunity to showcase their work close to home.
In another, Total Boox was reviewed after launching in 2013. With a slightly different approach from SELF-e, this tech tool introduced a ‘pay-as-you-read’ model. Libraries benefited from this approach because Total Boox opened their entire catalog to libraries without any upfront cost, leaving it up to library visitors to decide what to consume and in what quantity.
A couple of years back, James LaRue, former director of Douglas County Libraries in Colorado led a path-breaking effort involved in library eBook lending. Most recently American Libraries Magazine correspondent Alan S. Inouye interviewed him where he noted some additional challenges facing today’s libraries:
“Libraries, and distributors—still haven’t solved how to display e-only titles. I am still surprised we haven’t seen any joint marketing efforts by publishers and distributors. Right now, the two best bets in the market are Odilo and Total Boox: alternatives that are at least experimenting with discounts and the elimination of early limits to borrowing.”
From the Virtual to the Real . . .
So, now we have Amazon breaking ground literally and figuratively with their version of brick and mortar stores. Having debuted their first bookstore last November is Seattle, speculation has mounted about the online retailer’s long-term plans for building more bookstores in the States?
This past week, Amazon confirmed its plans to open the doors to a second bookstore in San Diego—and according to a Wall Street Journal review in February, there are 300-400 on the boards for future construction.
For starters, differing from how books are shelved ‘spine out’ at libraries and traditional bookstores, the Amazon stores will feature books ‘face out’ with lots of space between them. At first blush, this type of display in the past might have triggered speculation that a store had cash flow issues and couldn’t afford to stock a lot of inventory. But with Amazon, we certainly know that’s not the case. Here, it seems to be an intentional tactic to provide authors a greater merchandising opportunity.
Yet, are books in and of themselves the raison d’être for Amazon to open such stores? Tech analyst Rob Enderle doesn’t seem to think so. In his estimation “the books are just window dressing".
He senses Amazon is simply using them to create a more welcoming space for customers to investigate what this commercial enterprise really wants to sell—namely its electronic products.
In addition to their eReaders and tablets such as Kindle Fire, Amazon wants their customers to get up close and personal with their new products such as Amazon Fire TV and Amazon Echo, its popular voice-activated personal digital assistant and the firm’s first entrée into the world of the Internet of Things [IoT].
"A lot of people are intimidated by electronics, but they feel comfortable hanging out in a bookstore," Enderle said. “If they go into a Best Buy they worry they'll be set upon by salespeople, but in a bookstore they feel safe.”
John Mutter, editor-in-chief of Shelf Awareness, a bookstore industry newsletter agrees. He found it striking that while there are bookshelves around the perimeter of the Seattle store, the middle section was taken up with large displays of Amazon's various electronics for people to touch and engage with.
Real Bookstores, Real Opportunity?
Valerie Shanley, press officer with the Alliance of Independent Authors speculated recently whether or not Amazon ‘getting physical’ approach with its customers would also help self-publishing authors.
While she feels the jury is still out, she does think it’s another venue for writers to promote their wares and potentially benefit from a new revenue stream. Its common knowledge that the consumer habit of bookstore browsing, then going online to purchase is a behavioral pattern that’s quite common with other brick and mortar outlets, such as Best Buy.
Forbes’ staff writer Daniel Kleinman noted that millennials preferred to buy books in a brick andmortar store as opposed to eCommerce sites like Amazon. 52% of the millennials surveyed said they “normally acquired” books from large chain stores, while 28% preferred to purchase in designated bookstores.
Pricing & Payment is All About the Data . . .
As far as their pricing model, the Amazon stores have a few unique features. Every book has a shelf tag that includes a capsule review from the website, a star rating, and a barcode. There are no prices listed on the books themselves. To get the price, you need to scan the code with the camera of your smartphone and the Amazon app. If you don’t have a smartphone or the app installed, an associate can assist you. While pricing is the same as their online store, customers obviously don’t have to pay for shipping.
At this juncture, here’s where Amazon differs markedly from other retail stores. If you are signed into the app with your account, Amazon is immediately able to associate its online customer records with you. It knows your preferences, your buying history and your status as an Amazon Prime and/or Amazon credit card member. Armed with that data, it can feed you recommendations, offer coupons and incentives, and prompt you straight through to the close of the sale, as you hold the book you are considering purchasing. Pretty cool, eh?
However, if you forgot to bring your smartphone, you can pay at the registers the old-fashioned way with cash, debit or credit cards.
Is There an Amazon Store in Your Future?
Amazon is the online eCommerce site that by all reports was responsible for putting the brick and mortar Borders Books out of business several years back, by shifting consumers buying habits from bookstores to online sites. What do you think of its chances for succeeding in the real world? And as a self-publishing author, where do you see yourself fitting into this commercial picture?
Readers & Writers: I look forward to your feedback, comments and critiques, and please use BookWorks.com as your resource to learn more about preparing, publishing and promoting self-published books. My blogs appear bi-weekly on the 1st and 3rd Fridays of each month.
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