A visit to Amazon Books

The Garden State Plaza is the mall in my area. It’s a gargantuan cathedral to retail excess, chock full of boutiques and anchor stores and really expensive crap most normal people could never afford. I mean, I’m not dropping a grand on a watch, y’all. Or a suit. Or anything, really.

Since the Borders chain went out of business in late 2010, this massive mall didn’t have a bookstore. There are a couple Barnes & Nobles in the area, and a few indies, but not at this joint. At least, not until Amazon opened up a brick-and-mortar outlet a little while ago.

Now, I most certainly urge folks to buy my books from local independent retailers, but let’s face it — Amazon is Amazon. They have something like half the print book market and two-thirds of the e-book market in their pocket. As an author, Amazon’s been good to me. So on a recent trip to said mall — I have a 13-year-old daughter, so the mall is a thing — we stopped in at Amazon Books, holiday gift card in hand.

Here are my impressions.

First off, all of Amazon’s various gizmos are front-and-center as you walk in. There are various Kindles, Echos and Fires all in a row, and when we stopped to look, a sales person immediately appeared, as if from nowhere, to begin demonstrating the technology. He fired off at least a half-dozen questions to Alexa, to the point where we felt bad for wanting to walk off, even though he was busy demonstrating how the Echo could see what was going on at the Amazon Books outlet in Seattle’s University District. Finally, with a look and a meaningful “thank you,” (i.e. “Please stop talking.”), we were able to get into the rest of the store.

The store is small. I mean, it’s about the size of a small neighborhood bookstore, but with fewer books, and there’s no place to sit and read. If anything, it felt more like a showroom than an actual bookstore. I would say there were maybe fifty titles in the science fiction/fantasy section, heavily focused on the gold standards and current best sellers. So, yeah, mine weren’t there, but there were some other folks’ books absent that really surprised me.

Indeed, I would say that your typical airport bookstore has a greater selection of titles than Amazon Books. But that misses the point, because Amazon Books isn’t there to actually…sell books. Yes, there are a few gems there — I picked up two books that tie into my next writing project, and the kid picked up one as well. We also got the card game Exploding Kittens, because we were charmed. And yes, there’s a healthy supply of games and knick-knacks, as you’d expect from any bookstore these days.

Checking out is interesting. None of the items in the store have prices listed (except for the tech gear), because those prices are variable. If you’re a Prime member, you get the full Amazon discount on your purchase. If not, you pay list price for everything. And of course, you can sign up for Prime on the spot. Check out is done via iPad (or whatever the Amazon equivalent is) and the Amazon app on your phone. No cash is involved. My purchases were automatically deducted from my gift card.

And of course, if you’re looking for a book they don’t have, the crew there will immediately order it for you and have it at your house as soon as possible — which means yet another potential upsell for Prime membership.

Amazon Books exists to sell Amazon, not books. It’s there to get you signed up for Prime, to put a Kindle in your hands, to get an Echo in your house and a Fire on your TV. It should not be considered a bookstore, really, because books are beside the point. It’s an advertisement for Amazon’s tech and services, with a smattering of books to help pay the rent. Honestly, I expect Amazon Books outlets to be a loss leader for Amazon in terms of in-store sales — but could very well be a new and lucrative way to get customers into the Amazon ecosystem.

Long story short, I’m probably not heading back there the next time I’m in the market for books.

#SFWApro

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