Commentary

Amazon's Manhattan Shop Opens To So-So Reviews

After much gnashing of hype and angst, Amazon opened its physical bookstore in New York’s Columbus Circle yesterday to reviews leaning toward three stars, maybe. 

“New Amazon Bookstore Looks Like Airport Desperation Pit-Stop,” The New York Post hed chastises. “Amazon may have finally killed the bookstore once and for all — by opening one,” writes Raquel Laneri.

“The World Shrugged,” reads the hed over Jessica Stillman’s piece for Inc. “This step into the future looks a whole lot like the past,” she writes. 

“It looks and feels like traditional bookstores, but it's a little more complicated. And folks who aren't digitally savvy may end up paying more as a result,” reports Sara Ashley O'Brien for CNN Money.

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Even the kinder reviews, including by the buying public, weren’t exactly gushing. 

“It makes it feel more accessible,” Amanda Martinez, 25, tells a BBC reporter before springing for a JJ Abrams novel. “It's already accessible because it's online but it's nice to go inside and walk around.” And, Xiupeng Zhang, 28, sees the shop as “like the future of retail,” we’re told. “For him, the ability to pick up his purchases straight away without having to wait for them to be delivered, combined with low, online-world prices has long-term appeal.”

“Other than the Apple Store-like display, which sometimes makes you feel like you’re shopping for a new phone cover instead of a novel, the most striking thing about Amazon’s NYC outpost is the various sections in which the books are organized. The first thing that greets you upon entering is a table promoting books that have all received star ratings of 4.8 or above, which pretty much sets the tone for the overall experience,” writes Will Pulos for Time Out New York.

Speaking of the layout, “the store is 4,000 sq ft, carrying 3,000 different titles on the shelves. All the books are presented face-out. Each book is rated 4 stars or above on Amazon. The company also has the benefit of arranging shelves with other data they collect, such as one titled ‘Page Turners: Books Kindle Readers Finish in 3 Days or Less.’ There is also a section to try out Amazon electronics,” reports Justin Gmoser for Business Insider. His piece is accompanied by a video tour.

The first of three binding-and-glue locations planned for the New York metropolitan area — one is coming to 34th Street soon and a third to the Westfield Mall in Paramus, N.J. — it joins locations already opened in San Diego, Portland, Ore., Chicago, Seattle and two in Massachusetts, as Eli Blumenthal reports for USA Today.

“You don't run a marathon before you run a 5K,” Jennifer Cast, vice president of Amazon Books,” tells Agence France-Presse, which reports that the Seattle-based company will open 13 more brick-and-mortar outlets across the U.S. before the year is out. “We wanted some time to learn and we also really wanted the right spot.”

Amazon now “accounts for nearly half of all book sales in the United States, including print and e-books, according to the Codex Group, which analyzes the industry,” the New York Times’ Alexandra Alter tells us. “With the introduction of the Kindle in 2007, Amazon drove the e-book and self-publishing boom. It bought Audible, the audiobook producer and retailer, and Goodreads, the popular book review sharing site. It started a publishing company and now has 14 imprints.

“Last week, the company introduced Amazon Charts, weekly best-seller lists that track not only the top-selling digital and print books on Amazon but the ones that customers spend the most time reading,” Alter continues, reminding us of the many publishing niches it has created over the past 20 years.

But it has a ways to go in reinventing the past.

Amazon’s Cast “pitches the city's first physical Amazon store … as an extension of Amazon.com and (stop us if this sounds familiar) a revolution for the way we buy our books,” writes Mac King for Fox5NY. “‘We built this store to be a discovery mecca for customers, she said.”

“For those who remember the Borders and Barnes & Noble stores now closed in the area of Columbus Circle and find the idea of the original online bookstore — the one that put so many brick-and-mortar booksellers out of business — opening its own physical location counterintuitive, then you aren’t alone,” King rues.

Indeed, “there’s nothing very special yet about this browsing experience. I was looking for Judaica, was pointed to religion and found Leo Rosten’s famous ‘Joys of Yiddish’ surrounded by Thich Nhat Hanh, ‘The Dao of Pooh’ and a book on Salafi-Jihadism,” writes Dan Friedman for the Forward

“Meh,” he concludes.

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