In a quirk of fate, my first “real” job when I was a teenager was in the Books, Tapes, & Stationery department at a local department store. It was long enough ago that “tapes” referred to cassette tapes, and “books” were those rectangular things formed out of dead trees.
Along with the job came a store credit card and, as you can probably imagine, most of the purchases on that card were books. Then, as now, I loved the clearance book table. There were books with beautiful pictures of London, Paris, and lots of other places I dreamed of visiting. There were always books from National Geographic Press, and I still have many of the art books I purchased then, like the Treasures of Tutankhamen’s Tomb and the Art of Dresden. When things were slow, my co-workers and I gravitated toward the Hidden Eye picture books – squinting and peering awkwardly, trying to see the images hidden on the pages. For research purposes, of course!
I bought fiction books too, of course, but their pull wasn’t nearly as strong as those bargains from the clearance section. That section is still what draws me to brick & mortar bookstores. I can always find something I need if I browse there long enough. The same books probably exist on Amazon, but browsing “electronic shelves” isn’t nearly as satisfying as meandering down rows of physical books. I’ve tried to limit my meandering recently – an intention helped by the fact that physical bookstores nearby are few and far between.
When I’m looking for a fiction title by a specific author, however, browsing at my local bookstore rarely pays off as there seems to be a disconnect between what they stock and what I’m trying to find. It’s a problem remedied easily enough by logging onto Amazon.com, doing a quick search, and clicking “buy”. Productive and efficient, but I kind of miss the physical interaction with books that way.
Lucky for me, when I ventured out of the house a few weeks ago, I found that there is an actual brick & mortar Amazon store about 10 miles away.
Naturally I had to go in and check it out. It was . . . well . . . different.
One of the differences was obvious right away. As opposed to typical bookstores, Amazon shelves its books with their covers facing out, rather than their spines. On the plus side, that makes it easier to see, at a glance, what the books are. On the negative side, that means that the shelves contain fewer distinct titles than a typical bookstore (or so it seemed).
The store felt like it was a curated subset of Amazon’s inventory and that’s pretty much the case. Books are picked and grouped based on customer ratings, pre-orders, popularity on Goodreads, etc. Somewhat like the recommendations you typically see when browsing Amazon online, there are also “If you like . . . “ sections, along the lines of “people who bought xxx also bought zzz.”
Book prices are unlisted so, according to Amazon, so they can fluctuate with online changes. That means that if you want to know if the actual price of a book differs from the cover price, you have to check on the Amazon app. Fortunately, that’s as easy as scanning the bar codes located on the shelves under each book, but it’s kind of weird, because you can also, at that point, add the book to your online shopping cart (either a physical or eBook version) and, at the end of wandering through the physical Amazon store, click “buy” on your online cart and have your books shipped just like always.
That, as it turned out, is exactly what I wound up doing, since I had other shopping to do and didn’t feel like schlepping books around. It felt a little weird buying books but leaving the store empty handed though; a little autonomous too.
One part of the store that I thought was really great was the Children’s section. There appeared to be more books there than in the rest of the store combined and there were lots of parents and kids browsing, reading, and buying, which is great since it feels like children’s books are kind of hard to browse and buy online, unless you know what you are looking for.
The people at the store were all very friendly and it definitely had that “new book” smell and feel to it, but I’m not sure I’m likely to rush back anytime soon, and not just because of the lack of a “clearance” section.
When I was doing a little research online I found a great image at the Mad Magazine site titled Overheard at the New Amazon Bookstore. I had to laugh when I read the captions.
So, are you a fan of brick & mortar book stores? Have you been to a physical Amazon store? If so, what did you think?