6/21/2012 2:29 PM ET|
Will Amazon reinvent the bookstore?
The online giant is reportedly planning a boutique bookstore in Seattle. Could it grow into a retail chain for the 21st century?
Retailers everywhere have learned to fear the name Amazon.com (AMZN). The e-commerce giant has gradually grown to be a major threat in lucrative product lines such as electronics and fragrances. Even big chains have come to feel so threatened that some are refusing to sell Amazon's Kindle e-readers.
Now, rumor has it, the online everything-store plans to open a boutique bookstore in its hometown of Seattle, featuring the Kindle, as well as Amazon-exclusive books both virtual and printed.
At the risk that small-business owners will come over to my house and punch me in the arm, I want to say: "Great idea!"
Why not? What took so long?
It could just be a media-grabbing, one-shot flagship store. It could even be a seasonal holiday store that's gone come January.
But my gut tells me that's not what's coming. This is likely the birth of a major new retail bookstore chain, a Waldenbooks for the 21st Century. Sure, Amazon willl test and tweak at that first store. But get ready for the rollout.
Why, after being such a success by not having any stores, should Amazon take this leap? Two words: market opportunity.
A physical Amazon bookstore addresses one of the biggest problems in brick-and-mortar retailing today -- the mind-numbing sameness of the products. When you go through a mall, you see the same clothes, the same gadgets -- and in bookstores, the same books.
Someone at Amazon has realized that the company is sitting on a gold mine of unique books and e-books. Put that together with its own reader device, and you've got the setting for a cross between Barnes & Noble and the Apple (AAPL) store -- in other words, a bookstore my 10-year-old son is going to want to visit. And buy things at, and read them, on his Kindle.
It's nothing less than a breakthrough way to engage young readers who are growing up reading on a screen. It's the right medium coupled with that increasingly rare commodity in retail: exclusivity.
First off, if the rumors are correct, Amazon has the most important part of the plan right -- it's thinking small boutique store, not giant superstore. Big rent is what killed many of the bookstore chains.
With its emphasis on its collection of exclusive titles, Amazon also presents an alternative to traditional bookstores rather than a direct competitor. Sure, some visitors will buy Tom Clancy for the Kindle while they're there.
But Amazon's idea has the potential to reinvigorate the entire bookstore sector and increase interest in reading in general. That could lift the surviving indie bookstores, too, particularly those that take the hint and innovate.
Maybe some of those stores will see the writing on the wall and get into publishing their own unique products. The era of every bookstore selling the same thing is about to end.
Amazon has smartly realized it is poised to ride the transformation currently engulfing traditional publishing and bookstore retailing like no one else, and it's not staying on the beach -- the company plans to be first in the water to surf the wave. Bet legions of younger readers will be first in line in the door.
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well that will certainly not create any jobs.
I support my local books stores as much as I can.
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