Amazon declares a shift towards physical bookselling: what this means for the competition
The world of book publishing, to put it simply, has been divided into what seemed to be two opposing, un-mergeable forces since the introduction of the first e-reader in the early 2000s: the physical and the digital. However, with the reveal of Amazon introducing their first ever physical bookstore back in 2015 (with plans to introduce hundreds more) featuring their own digital twist, this line has undoubtedly become blurred.
So what does this mean for independent bookstores, as retail giants quite literally take a leaf out of their book? To answer this, we must address exactly what makes these bookstores different. We have to ask why a huge e-tailer would purposefully join its competition when the introduction of e-readers was feared to put physical bookstores out of business for good.
Well, this is Amazon, so of course the store isn’t fully physical and nor is it a carbon copy of a traditional bookstore. The new ‘Amazon Books’ retains its digital element by being innovatively data driven; the majority of books featured are based on Amazon’s own sales totals and customer reviews and recommendations, whilst the in-store element sees e-readers on shelves amongst the physical books – which Amazon claims will help users try before they buy. In addition to this, Amazon has decided to shelve their books with the cover facing outwards, rather than the standard spine display, allowing shoppers to get a full feel of the book. Each will also be accompanied by a card stating the book’s Amazon rating alongside a customer review.
The plans so far seem to embody Amazon’s customer-facing ethos, with everything you need to decide on your purchase at your fingertips, just as it would be online – gone are the days of doing a quick in-store Google search to see if a book is really as good as it appears to be, because, well, its reputation is laid out in front of you.
There is indeed a downside, however, to all this data-focused marketing, and traditional bookstores may still have the edge over their new competition. By stocking only bestsellers, Amazon removes individuality from its re-vamped notion of a bookstore, potentially failing to ignite the desire to discover that most booklovers have within them. There is something deeply satisfying about finding that book after a determined search, or even a casual browse, in an independent bookstore.
The book you pick may not have a 5 star rating on Amazon.co.uk, but it could become a classic to you, or at the least be an interesting discovery – those unusual, quirky, unlikely favourites or personal recommendations from shop staff will be much harder to come by in a data-driven world, which may not matter to some, but to others, it may make the experience of book-hunting a little less magical.