Shopping for a good book should not feel like another data point, another sale in the machine that tells the company how many books to buy.
FOR years, Amazon.com has been the place to find the cheapest books and in the most convenient way. Now, Amazon is trying to emulate the neighborhood bookstores we adore with its new brick-and-mortar location in University Village.
But places like Third Place Books, The Elliott Bay Book Company and my own place of work, A Book For All Seasons, can never be replaced. The experience of an indie bookstore just can’t be bought.
People won’t go to Amazon’s bookstore for enjoyment. The model is utilitarian, impersonal and cold. And with the rise of Amazon’s Kindle, customers risk losing contact with the heart of the book industry.
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Amazon touts how their books are facing out, all with recommendations from customers and staff. They emphasize their use of data and how these books are rated highly on Amazon.com. Not necessarily best-sellers, but highly rated.
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At your local independent bookstore, we want people to browse on their own time, on their own terms. We have recommendations scattered throughout the store — but that’s not why you come. You come because you want to make a discovery, one that will be your own.
Why would I go to a bookstore where all the work has been done for me? People are unique. We don’t want to feel like another data point, another sale in the machine that tells the company how many books to buy. Indie bookstores also use sales data, but we leave ample room for experimentation and improvisation. If I remember an amazing book from my childhood that I think we should carry, I can tell my boss. We have the freedom to experiment, which means our customers do, too.
Being in a bookstore is not supposed to be a quick and easy clinical process. But that is what Amazon has erected. They’re trying to soothe our fears about the book-selling business. “Amazon can’t be that bad,” is our rationalization. “There are real people employed here, selling real books. Surely this isn’t such a detriment to the publishing industry.” Unfortunately, it’s still just another step toward cutting independent bookstores out of the picture entirely.
No matter how much hardwood and soft lighting they hide behind, ultimately, Amazon’s customers are only that: customers to be shuffled in and out, with the cheapest product possible in their hands.
The draw of the Amazon bookstore is not the experience, it’s the price. And why would you go to their physical location when you could get that from the guilt-free comfort of your own home?