Can’t Make it to Seattle to See Amazon Books? Ars Has the Next Best Thing
Dozens of articles have been written about Amazon’s new bookstore in the 24 hours since it was formally announced. Most say pretty much the same thing (Amazon opened a store, yay/boo), but a couple articles stand out in the crowd.
The Atlantic’s coverage stood out because it was so awful, but Ars Technica’s thought piece stands out because this is the one and only article on Amazon’s bookstore that you simply must read. I’m still working my way through it for the second time, and I paused so I could tell you to go read it (and look at the 5 or 6 dozen photos).
Sam Machkovech writes like he is a snarky Amazon-hater, but he is also an incredibly observant one. He sees the store not as a bookstore so much as showfloor for all of Amazon’s services and products.
To name a few examples:
- the music is supplied by Amazon Music,
- there are Echos you can query,
- the magazine reading section is stocked with Fires, and
- users are prompted to install the Amazon shopping app for a complete experience.
I don’t know about you but I kinda got the impression from the earliest coverage that this was going to be a bookstore. Machkovech describes it differently:
Yet Amazon isn’t just interested in offering a comfortable, curated book-buying experience. It also wants to whack everybody over the head with its rapidly expanding empire of devices and content-delivery ecosystems. Everywhere you turn, you’ll find a Fire TV demo, or a table dedicated to Fire tablets, or the bonkers "read the book, listen to the book, watch the book" display—you know, in case you didn’t know that Amazon is ready to supply you with the audiobook and film versions of any hit franchise you can think of.
A few tables were dedicated to Amazon Echo, which we found hilarious, given that the white noise in the store was so loud, you couldn’t hear robo-Alexa’s spoken responses. Whenever Amazon Books turns on its speakers—they will exclusively play music from Amazon Prime Music—those demos will prove harder to hear.
Ultimately, the current version of Amazon Books is too busy, loud, and gadget-loaded to foster any traditional "let’s hang out at the bookstore to read and chat" experience. If you would rather think of the shop as a showroom for the Amazon products that have never been sold at big-box retailers like Best Buy or Wal-Mart, then that’s a whole 'nother story—but, then, why call the place "Amazon Books?"
This is the only first-hand report I’ve found so far, and it would be easy to misjudge the store based on what feels like a biased report. But I think it is safe to say that Amazon is using a "throw it against the wall and see what sticks" approach to the store.
In fact, I would say that this isn’t a bookstore or even a store so much as it is Amazon’s field experiment in retail.
If the pop-up stores Amazon tested in SanFrancisco, , and Sacramento were lab experiments in retail, the Amazon Books in Seattle is the full blown field experiment where Amazon is closely studying the wildlife to see how it interacts with the the test equipment.
Then again, maybe I’m reading too much into this one report. The noise and confusion might be due to launch day craziness, and not a willingness to experiment. Once things quiet down and the excitement wears off, the store could look and feel different.
But at the moment, the store is described more like it was planned about as well as the Fire Phone and not nearly as well as the original Kindle.
There was also the odd matter of how much we interacted with humans. Amazon Books, in some ways, is designed to be a book-loving introvert’s dream: every book has a quote and a sales pitch, and every category shelf has been curated as if to say, "This is just like book stores of old! Look, some recommendations that are tailored for specific kinds of readers! You people used to love this stuff." Yet when we wanted to see about a specific book being in stock at the store, we couldn’t find any kiosk or app function to search locally, and that’s when we were told we needed to ask a human. (We asked this because we found a book that was a biography but not stocked in Amazon Books' biography section—which we consider another issue with the shop’s whole "let us curate for you" philosophy.) When Amazon Books didn’t have something in stock, an employee informed us—with no sense of irony—that you don’t have to "special order” it like at other book stores. Just order it through Amazon! You have the app open already, right?
What do you think?