• Joseph Patrick Pascale

Amazon, Physical Bookstore?


I imagine everyone in this bookstore casting knowing glances at one another, not losing sight of the irony that the online bookstore people hold responsible for taking down so many physical bookstores has now doubled back and started opening brick-and-mortar bookstores of their own. But this business of selling books is full of irony, with many feeling no pity for Barnes & Noble suffering under Amazon when they had forced out so many other bookstores themselves. Yet with indie bookstores on the rise, this saga has plenty of surprises yet.

Nevertheless, Amazon reigns as the world's largest bookseller by far, so I couldn't help but take a look at their foray into retail meatspace when I stumbled upon their Paramus, NJ location in the Garden State Plaza mall. Was I skeptical? Of course. My memory of George Packer's 2014 exploration of Amazon's dubious relationship to books lingered on my shoulder. The article includes notable quotes like, “Amazon has successfully fostered the idea that a book is a thing of minimal value—it’s a widget," by independent publisher Dennis Johnson or, “I thought [Jeff Bezos] was just a bookstore, stupid me. Books were going to be the way to get the names and the data. Books were his customer-acquisition strategy,” by John Sargent, CEO of Macmillan Publishers.

If you look at the aesthetic, there's something industrial and cold about it, particularly with the black void of a ceiling. Even though there are few scattered comfortable chairs, I don't at all have the urge to spend my life there like the places I described in The Bookstore Hobos. The thing that made Amazon Books the most different from any other bookstore I've been in is that almost all of the books were facing with the cover out.

This takes up more room on the shelves, but at most bookstores they'll face certain books cover out like as a way to bring attention to them. Evidently, Amazon thought it would be best to do this with every book. The logic must be related to the idea that they can't compete with selling virtually every book you could want online, so they're going to give a full push to sell the curated selection of books available at the store.

Don't mind the Kindles and other Amazon electronics littered throughout the store. As part of this push to sell their books, each one includes some kind of review. Many of these are pulled from the book's Amazon page.

Many of the reviews are just pulled from one random person who posted it on the Amazon site that they happened to like for inclusion on the shelf, like this one of some pens from "Tea."

Or maybe you want to know what "Jimmy" thinks of Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time.

Yeah, it's kind of odd. But they all include the overall star rating as a way of implying that this is representative of the hivemind's consensus on these books.

In some cases, rather than an actual review, they just give you the percentage of 5-star reviews.

Other times, the write-up is from "Amazon Books," as is the case with this book on @KIMKIERKEGAARD, which is a Twitter account random internet commenters were disappointed I didn't address in my @ModernKierkegaard post.

They've got sections that evoke the kinds of lists you might find on Amazon.com or GoodReads.

I did think this "Growing Up Strong: Books to Empower Girls" was a particularly nice section to have.

Write your life? That's pretty good advice.

It's a decent sized store, but not anywhere near the massive expanse that was the Borders bookstore with cafe that used to be the bookstore in the Garden State Plaza.

They've managed to sneak in a lot of non-books too, which perhaps test the water for future non-book plans.

As interesting as it may be to wander the store and contemplate the algorithms and focus groups that must have gone into designing every inch of this place for maximum selling efficiency, if I actually want to buy a book, I'll hit up the local indie bookstores, and if I'm in Bergen County where this place is, I'll go to my all-time favorite, the Brier Rose Books.

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