This past Wednesday morning I stopped by a brand new Amazon brick and mortar bookstore just up the road in Dedham. I walked out after roughly ten minutes of browsing with nothing to show for it.
I love bookstores. One of my favorite jobs was working for Borders Books & Music in Rockville, Maryland back in the early 1990s before the company went corporate and lost its way. The experience of walking in Amazon’s version of the bookstore could not have felt more alien to me. In fact, as counter-intuitive as this may sound, I don’t believe the overall mission of the store is the sale of books.
The store attempts to recreate the experience of buying books online. Shelves are apparently a thing of the past. Customers are confronted by walls of books with each cover facing out as opposed to the more economical spine out – an indication that maximizing the number of titles for each subject area is of little value.
The History section was a huge disappointment. Books are displayed with no apparent order. There is no breakdown by sub-topic or time period. All titles are equal. A book by Brian Kilmeade on Jefferson is no worse or better than a book by Alan Taylor. Each enjoys a customer review in its favor. From what I could tell, the only thing that unites the titles offered is that they are currently selling well. This is not the place to debate what titles a history section should have. Apart from a new biography of Grant and Tony Horwitz’s Confederates in the Attic I couldn’t find a single Civil War title. Oh well.
Please don’t ask if there are any academic press books.
In the end, the store felt more like a portal into the broader Amazon universe than a bookstore. They could just as well have been selling vacuum cleaners and I suspect that this is one of the goals of the customer experience. Enter as a book customer and leave relying even more on Amazon.com for your broader shopping needs. That’s fine.
I couldn’t be more pleased to see that independent bookstores are making a comeback. I certainly don’t expect to find the kind of selection that Borders and other large stores offered back in the 1990s, but I still enjoy the experience of weaving through and browsing shelves of books with my neighbors. Unfortunately, this experience felt nothing like that.
Support your local bookstores.