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Prepare to be stunned: Amazon just opened a physical bookstore in Seattle

Asad Ali | Updated on: 13 February 2017, 7:47 IST

"Tuesday morning at 9:30, Amazon Books will open its doors. These aren't metaphorical doors: these real, wooden doors are the entrance to our new store in Seattle's University Village."

It's a small letter that caused a big tizzy.

When VP of Amazon Books Jennifer Cast sent off this announcement, it sent media houses and publishers into a tizzy.

A new bookstore is not news. A new physical bookstore by Amazon, the world's biggest platform for selling books online? One whose business model has involved cutting out the brick and mortar to pass on discounts to buyers online has triggered a seismic shift in the book business? That sure is.

The idea of a physical space to sell books seems to go against the very grain of what Amazon stands for. About 15 years ago, the company started selling books online from a garage in Seattle, but Cast says that all those years of knowledge about customer preferences is only going to help this venture.

No price tags, categories you've never heard of, and a new kind of display: Amazon's first bookstore is disruptive

"It's data with heart. We're taking the data we have and we're creating physical places with it." she said in the letter.

The Seattle store will be stocked with about 6,000 odd titles ranging from bestsellers to categories like 'Most Wished-For Cookbooks.'

The company also intends to reinvent what bookstore display looks like: all books will be displayed face-out, not with their spines showing. Under each book will be a review card with a customer rating and review. Book prices on the Amazon website and instore will be the same.

However, there aren't any pricetags on the books. You're supposed to either scan the book at kiosks in the store or use the Amazon app to check prices. Amazon devices such as the Kindle, Echo, Fire TV, and Fire Tablet are all strategically placed across the store, possibly to introduce skeptical paper-book loyalists to an electronic reading experience.

The Million Books Question

Why did Amazon venture into a physical space? Cast isn't playing. She replied "You ask why now, but in some ways, it's kind of like, why not?" to a question from GeekWire.

But beyond the cutesy corporate philosophy there is, naturally, pragmatism at play. Amazon's own imprints are only sold in e-book format because most rival retailers like Barnes & Noble, as a matter of company policy, block Amazon's books owing to Amazon's predatory pricing and other practices.

Here's a great primer that'll explain why Amazon could've been forced to expand into a physical space to reach out to the general interest reader.

Sure, sales may not instantly touch the stratosphere, but in the long run, their deep pockets make them formidable opponents. Bloomberg reported recently that Amazon registered a profit of $79 million in third quarter sales for this year. That number beat industry analysts' predictions as well. So if it can afford to finally do something about the Barnes & Noble-shaped bottleneck it has run into, why not?

Retailers like Barnes & Noble don't stock Amazon imprints, so the formidable e-retailer just opened its own bookstore

Using online data to sell online

Amazon has possibly the richest datab about online buying habits in the world, and that information goes beyond books. They certainly intend to use those learnings to sell in the real world. They've already indicated that they're assessing saleability based on algorithms to connect with an audience that still prefers the tactile experience of reading - an experience they've themselves been accused of killing.

They've also been accused of killing the concept of the bookstore itself, so it will be bittersweet irony for many - especially owners of dying indie bookstores worldwide - to see a physical shopfront with the name Amazon plastered across it.

First published: 4 November 2015, 4:19 IST
Asad Ali @asadali1989

Asad Ali is another cattle class journalist trying to cover Current affairs and Culture when he isn't busy not saving the world.