San Diego Booksellers Bemoan the Imminent Arrival of a Local Amazon Bookstore

22942103802_eeaef78cd7_hWe've known since Wednesday that Amazon is planning to open a retail location in San Diego (and judging by the related job openings, that is only the beginning), and booksellers in the San Diego area aren't happy.

The San Diego Union-Tribune reported on this story yesterday in an article rife with ant-Amazon propaganda, hostility, and errors (an early version of the piece referred to the Amazon Nook - no joke).

The piece is generally not worth reading, but there were a couple nuggets of useful info, including confirmation that Amazon is looking for retail space in the area. Reg Kobzi, senior vice president for commercial real-estate brokerage CBRE, confirmed the report but could not comment further due to a confidentiality agreement.

Amazon's imminent arrival has some local booksellers responding with expected hostility. According to Mysterious Galaxy co-owner Mary Elizabeth Yturralde, Amazon should be investigated every time Jeff Bezos takes a deep breath, changes his pants, or has an extra cup of coffee at breakfast.

"Anything that Amazon does is something that needs to be viewed with concern because of their predatory business model," said Yturralde. "They operate in the Walmart mode where they don’t add any value to any community they move into.”

No value - except for the jobs, low prices, and tax revenue in local coffers. But none of that is worth anything to anyone.

Of course, not all of Amazon's competitors are afraid, and some are downright unconcerned. Reached for comment, the co- founder of Powell’s Books in Portland Oregon was indifferent at best.

“We did check out the store in Seattle, and found their model not very compelling to us,” said co-founder Michael Powell, whose flagship store has an inventory of a million titles spread across 70,000 square feet. “I'm not in any panic mode. We've survived Barnes and Noble, I think we can survive Amazon.”

Adrian Newell, a book buyer at Warwicks in La Jolla, is described as not being happy about Amazon moving in either, but she was able to move beyond the initial reaction to make the astute suggestion that Amazon is interested in meet-the-author events. “That's the one thing they haven't been able to duplicate,” she said. “Otherwise, why would Amazon take on the additional costs of leasing space?”

That's a novel idea, but so far as we know Amazon has been using its only retail bookstore less to engage with authors and more to gather data on how consumers browse for books. And what with traditionally published authors (and Big Five authors in particular) running the risk of being blacklisted if they held an event at Amazon Books, there won't be a lot of demand for events.

Frankly we don't know how Amazon will be using the space.

Edit: But that hasn't stopped some from speculating.  Writing over on his blog "I love my Kindle", Bufo Calvin has thrown together a list of all of Amazon's promotional and physical retail  activities and proposed that Amazon should do it all under one roof:

  • Showcase books, like they are doing in Seattle
  • Show off Amazon devices, which might include simulated rooms, like you can see in some electronic stores
  • Amazon lockers, where you pick up some things you order online before you get there
  • Have a Fed Ex store part of it, to handle returns, but whatever else you wanted to ship
  • Maybe have a print-on-demand machine, to do print books
  • Perhaps have a sort of test kitchen/coffee place, but I’m not sure about that. It would help them to have people try some of the things online
  • Amazon’s “home of tomorrow”, showing off possible future things, including doing focus groups
  • Author talks by Kindle Direct Publishing/Amazon imprint/Amazon independent paperbook authors

Some of these don't make any sense to do under the same roof. For example, consumers tend to treat POD in a store more like a print shop then a bookstore, so there’s little reason to include a POD machine in a bookstore. And Amazon lockers don’t have to be co-located with a bookstore, so it would make more sense to place the lockers a couple miles away where rent is cheaper.

The test kitchen and "home of tomorrow" are kinda like what Amazon has done with pop up stores in the past, and they're space intensive. But if you combine that area with the author event space, you might be able to kill two birds with one store.

And as for the FedEx store idea, that's just another name for the unstores Amazon is installing on and near college campuses. It doesn't really serve the same market (but it also doesn't necessary require a lot of space so why not include it).

But no matter how Amazon uses their stores, the Union-Tribune's Lori Weisberg opines that "Amazon’s brick-and-mortar business plans, then, are sure to make the company even less popular" with certain parts of the book industry.

I for one am looking forward to seeing what that would look like; I have trouble imagining how Amazon could be more hated than they are now. I mean, in the past six months we've seen a biased report on Amazon's supposed negative impact on local tax revenues, a farcial letter to the DOJ, and (just last week) a recital where Amazon's evilness was the main topic.

What could Amazon's detractors do next to show they dislike Amazon, start making Amazon's employees disappear under mysterious circumstances?

I really don't see how Amazon could be more hated by their competitors (and suppliers), but that doesn't extend to its customers. Amazon has always scored high with consumers, and based on the 4.2 star Yelp rating for the Amazon Books location in Seattle, consumers are pleased with Amazon's first bookstore.

coming soon to a shopping center near you?

coming soon to a shopping center near you?

That store carries around 5,000 titles (as well as Amazon's gadgets) in a 7,500 square foot space, or about a tenth as many titles as the average indie bookstore would squeeze into the space, and most consumers don't seem to mind the limited selection nearly as much as Amazon detractors. This includes John Mutter of Shelf Awareness, who said that "For the amount of space Amazon has, (the store's selection) felt kind of skimpy".

Will Amazon future stores receive similar mixed reviews?

It's hard to say, but one thing we can safely predict is that Amazon wants to open more retail locations. The latest rumor suggests that Amazon has plans for other types of stores besides bookstores, and that rumor is born out by the job listings mentioned in the first paragraph of this post.

According to Amazon's site, Amazon Books (apparently the name for the broader brick and mortar program at Amazon) is looking for a data engineer, financial analystsenior program manager , and curators for literary fiction, nonfiction, and children’s books.

"Join the team that just launched the first-ever Amazon Books retail store. We’ve applied Amazon’s 20 years of online bookselling experience to build a store that integrates the benefits of offline and online book shopping," the listings say. "Our doors opened November 3rd and it is very much still Day One. We are looking for entrepreneurial, analytical, creative, flexible leaders to help us make Amazon Books the world’s most customer-centric bookstore and a place that customers love to shop."

Those positions are all head office jobs and will be based in Seattle, and that suggests that Amazon is going to have enough stores in operation to justify the overhead.

Amazon is rumored to be planning to open a dozen or so stores over the next couple years, and given the confirmed details we have now I'd say those rumors are all but confirmed.

images by SounderBruce

About Nate Hoffelder (11160 Articles)
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader: "I've been into reading ebooks since forever, but I only got my first ereader in July 2007. Everything quickly spiraled out of control from there. Before I started this blog in January 2010 I covered ebooks, ebook readers, and digital publishing for about 2 years as a part of MobileRead Forums. It's a great community, and being a member is a joy. But I thought I could make something out of how I covered the news for MobileRead, so I started this blog."

12 Comments on San Diego Booksellers Bemoan the Imminent Arrival of a Local Amazon Bookstore

  1. Bufo Calvin,author of the Blog “I Love My Kindle” posted some good ideas about possible elements of an Amazon physical store. 1: Showcase books like they do in their Seattle store. 2: Show off Amazon devices which might include simulated rooms like in some electronic stores. 3: Amazon lockers to pick up items you ordered before you got there. 4: Have a FedEx store to handle returns. 5: Perhaps a print on demand machine to do print books. 6: Amazon’s home of tomorrow to show off future things to include doing focus groups. 7: Author talks by Kindle Direct Publishing/Amazon imprint/Amazon independent paper book Authors.

    • I saw that, John, and I wish I had thought to mention it here. He basically mashed together all of Amazon’s various b&m ideas and then threw in POD even though it made no sense. (And I think FJTorres made similar suggestions a while back.)

      Consumers tend to treat POD in a store more like a print shop then a bookstore, so there’s little reason to include a PDO machine in a bookstore.

      Amazon lockers don’t have to be colocated with a bookstore, so it would make more sense to place the lockers a couple miles away where rent is cheaper.

      You know, I’m going to have to stop here and go revise my post. These ideas are worth addressing directly.

      Edit: And thank you for bringing it up!

  2. Powell’s is exactly the kind of destination book store that has little to fear from Amazon at B&M. They offer lots of value in the form of used and hard to find midlist and backlist titles. Plus, they have theif own online operation. But even they got their statement slightly wrong–the proper phrasing would be “We’ve survived Amazon online, we can survive them in B&M.”
    It is doubtful that used book or genre specialist stores will be impacted by Amazon Books any more than they’ve been by Amazon.com or Kindle.

    The ones that might be impacted are the ones operating under the industry’s traditionally passive “stock it and they will come” business model.

    As for what the industry can do to further vent their Amazon bile, your imagination is failing you: Amazon setting up physical stores all over will privide the gold-plated gang convenient targets for pickets, sit-ins, screaming obscenities to shoppers, nuisance lawsuits in local courts, graffiti, vandalism, fire bombings…
    Those folks are just getting started.
    I’m sure you’ll find their want ads on Craigslist: “wanted, extras for staged protests. Industry standard contract terms will apply so expect long hours, low net pay, non-disclosure and non-compete clauses. We need special people undaunted by the realities of today’s cruel world and willing to sit for a chance to make the world a better place for their employers. Stoners welcome.”

    • “Amazon setting up physical stores all over will privide the gold-plated gang convenient targets for pickets, sit-ins, screaming obscenities to shoppers, nuisance lawsuits in local courts, graffiti, vandalism, fire bombings”

      Funny thing is, the Seattle store has no activist reviews on Yelp. Do you suppose Yelp is removing them?

    • Now that I think about it, why have we not heard about protests? I mean, the Seattle store is three months old.

  3. Yelp is an online operation. And powered by the faceless masses.
    They probably don’t even know it exists.
    Tres declassee for people who think the way to fight Amazon is full page ads in the NYT and lynching parties for “people who matter” in DC.
    Even hiring picketers is probably beneath their aristo sensibilities but if they really intend to do more than blow hot air they are going to have to hire some bodies to be able to pretend somebody outside the Manhattan Mafia cares.

    • “Even hiring picketers is probably beneath their aristo sensibilities ”

      Not necessarily. There were picketers at the 2011 Kindle Fire launch event, and there would have been picketers at the 2012 event except it was really hard to get to. And after that Amazon went for secret events at undisclosed locations, and picketers could be the reason why.

  4. But were they hired by the Manhattan Mafia?
    In those days Walmart and Target were funding an astroturf campaign over internet taxes…
    What were they picketing about?
    (I suppose the might have been occupiers, in which case: “because”.)

  5. And the sales tax issue is dead and buried in the belly of Congress.

  6. Thanks for the feedback on my thoughts about possible features for an Amazon brick-and-mortar, Nate!

    I thought I’d share with your readers how I responded to you elsewhere (not verbatim, just the essence).

    My suggestion of the Print-on-Demand (POD) isn’t that it would be there to sell books. It would be an attraction, while at the same time showing respect for paperbooks (p-books). Sure, some people would actually buy books that way (maybe one book in an hour), but it would be more about watching it work.

    I analogized it to Disney putting the carousel into Disneyland. Here it was a super state of the art (really unprecedented) new entertainment venue, and they included a very vintage ride. Working they making the money back for it with a ten cent “A” ticket? I doubt that covered the maintenance. 🙂

    On the lockers: you are right if you picture lockers as rent intensive, like a self-storage facility with a hundred spaces on a parking lot sized space.

    You could put ten lockers, each big enough for a TV set, and it wouldn’t take up that much rent. It could be done largely vertically, if you used technology to retrieve things from the highest lockers (although I don’t think Amazon’s Kiva robots can climb). 😉 You don’t own a particular locker all the time: you are told which locker has your specific package this time. Make people pick up their packages within a day or so, and you can serve quite a few people.

    Like the POD, and indeed, the entire Amazon showroom, it would serve as an advertisement for Amazon’s online services.

    Again, I appreciate the exchange of ideas!

  7. Given they had a poor earnings report recently, I’m surprised they would try expanding their “brick and mortar” concept. Brick & mortar is a money intensive operation so they must have a lot of cash to spend. I always have the sense that Bezos is throwing things at the wall to see what will stick. Not saying that is a bad way to run a company but hopefully his physical store strategy does better than the Fire phone. What a disaster that was.

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