Amazon and the Revival of the Traditional Bookstore

Alex Mills ’17
Contributing Writer

In one of the most surprising business-model shifts of the year, online retailer Amazon opened its first physical bookstore in Seattle, Wash. On Nov. 10. Amazon’s business model – especially in the realm of books – has been to offer a slightly discounted price to chip away at the sales of both small-scale and chain bookstores. Combined with their incredibly diverse selection of books and other print materials, this has ensured the vitality of their business.

For college students, Amazon provides an excellent place to get affordable textbooks and school supplies, allowing extra money for much-needed coffee and Domino’s orders. However, despite its often-unbeatable prices, critics have long condemned Amazon’s practices. They argue that bookstores have inherent value, and that losing them would represent a cultural depletion of the greatest magnitude. It was this disapproval and dismay that caused many to predict that Amazon’s marketplace was “the beginning of the end” for traditional bookselling.

In light of such a critique, it is surprising that a company that has advocated for online book retail and e-readers for so long would revert to a more conventional means of bookselling. The rationale is perhaps not as surprising: when Amazon realized that shoppers enjoy the comforting familiarity of their local indie bookstores, they jumped at the opportunity to create their own, slightly more corporate , version. For many frequent readers, such as myself, the experience of visiting a favorite and beloved bookstore is an empowering and pointed decision. One goes to such a book shop not to save money or time, but because one deems the independent bookselling model to be a positive and valuable aspect of one’s life. Many people choose to “go local” when it comes to their reading material precisely because they are ideologically at odds with Amazon and other online retailers. I find it hard to believe that people would flood en masse to an Amazon store simply because of its physical presence. When I was talking to a friend and used-bookstore aficionado on the phone, he pointed out, “If you’re going to choose Amazon over an independent store, you’ve already decided that you want it cheap and with the option to get it shipped straight to your door. Amazon’s bookstore can’t offer that, so why would you bother?” I can’t help but agree. The company’s attempt to reconcile online shopping and a tangible bookstore is both misguided and awkward.

In addition, the introduction of Amazon’s store is, in itself, a conundrum for fans of local bookshops. Many of the novel features the designers have implemented, such as the computer-printed recommendations (a less personalized version of a staff pick), are take-aways from indie bookstores that have been using such strategies for years. With this strange amalgamation of personal touches and overarching corporate planning, Amazon’s attempt at reeling in dedicated fans of traditional book shopping will likely falter, if not fall entirely flat.

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