Photo: Lois Billig

Photo: Lois Billig

Reaction to Amazon’s opening a real bookstore seems to be focussed on finding a hidden cunning reason for this, because we all know, don’t we, that on-line bookselling à la Amazon.com is where it’s all at, and they obviously wouldn’t be silly enough to throw their cash into that sort of sinkhole.

A property manager stoked the panic by suggesting that Amazon were planning 300 to 400 stores, but this now seems to have been pooh-poohed down to about a dozen.

So what on earth are they up to?

One theory, advanced by Rob Enderle of Bend, Oregon is that they are only sticking the books in there to disguise the fact that they want you to buy their electronic devices. In other words the store is basically an Apple Store with bookshelves. The Passive Voice brings us the story, with a link to USA Today, its ultimate source.

Rob Salkowitz, on On the Media (third story), tells us it’s all about systems: they are really just setting up showrooms to market their slick Cloud-based retail operation so that the likes of H&M and Macy’s will buy their service. He claims that the books in the shop don’t have prices on them and this means that customers have to use the shelf label to connect via their smart phones to find out pricing and of course other information. By connecting, the customers identify themselves, and using previous data the retailer would thus be able to know what sort of thing this particular customer might be interested in, and say things like “In the next aisle you can find a great sweater in pale green to go with the pants you bought last month”. That sounds rather clever, but I wonder if Amazon would really have to set up a whole store, or series of stores, in order to demo the concept. Also, of course, I can’t imagine where they are buying books without prices on them. The publishing industry has been bludgeoned over the years to keep printing prices on covers, so that finding many unpriced books sounds problematical. They don’t seem to be obscuring the prices with a sticker. When you scan the barcode you seem to get the discounted on-line price, though I don’t know whether this applies to all their inventory.  I think Mr Salkowitz’s attribution of motivation may be more aspirational than actual.

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Photo: The verge.com

As you can see, the shelf label, which is quite large — all the books are displayed face out — doesn’t carry any pricing. Amazon is asking customers to download an Amazon app, as the instructions sign below shows. But you can just take the book to a scanning point in the store and scan it there — which of course means your identity is not captured.

Photo: Lois Billig

Photo: Lois Billig

Personally, it seems to me that although Amazon may well be interested in selling Kindles and marketing a retail Cloud service, they have in fact decided to test the waters on bricks and mortar, sensing that the shake out in the business which their on-line store has caused has pretty much run its course. After all, people have signaled that they like to go into a real shop: independent bookstores are opening up faster than they’re closing down. In actual fact most of the “decimation” took place among the national chain bookstores. So, I think these shops are there to sell books — hard though it may be for the commentariat to credit something so boringly straightforward.

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