Booksellers' 'horror' at Amazon bookshop

Booksellers' 'horror' at Amazon bookshop

The news that Amazon is to open a physical bookshop, albeit not in the UK, has been met with a mixed reaction in the trade, with some saying they are "horrified", while others have welcomed the move.

Amazon Books, based in Seattle’s University Village, will stock 5,000-6,000 titles in a store space of 5,500 square foot with 2,000 square foot of storage at the back of the shop. It will sell books at the same price as and Amazon Books’ vice president Jennifer Cast has told the Seattle Times that the company hoped it was "not our only one".

Competing brick and mortar retailers are unsurprisingly amongst those most troubled by their online rival Amazon opening a physical store to contend with them on yet another level - competition from the deep-discounting Amazon is one of the top two reasons independent booksellers give for forcing their closure in the UK, according to the Booksellers Association, with the other being high business rates.

James Daunt, m.d of Waterstones, told The Bookseller he hoped the venture would "fall flat on its face".

"…With only 5,000 titles in a space in which Waterstones would put over 10 times that number, it appears to be a tentative dip of the toe into physical bookselling waters," he said. "Clearly, however, a skim of the bestsellers away from true bookshops would be very damaging: we very much hope that it falls flat on its face."

Emma Corfield Walters from independent Bookish in Crickhowell said: "I would be absolutely horrified if it opened in London. I would be worried about it. If they’re able to harness that massive buying power they have and bring it to the high street…  I don’t know if it would wipe out small town bookshops, but certainly bookshops in big cities.” She added that the main worry would be the “unfair competition” and “not being able to compete because of their buying power."

Henry Layte from The Book Hive in Norwich said the development was "a bit depressing" but not surprising. "I think it was inevitable," he said. "I’d wait and see what happens, and if it happens over here… Yeah, it’s a bit depressing. But not a surprise. It wouldn’t worry me because they wouldn’t do it where I am [in Norwich], they’d do it in London, but it’s just depressing. No one likes them so no one wants to see them taking over other territories of the market that aren’t theirs. It’s just a bit bleak, isn’t it?"

Meanwhile, Helen Stanton from Forum Books in Northumberland, said: "I think the way independent bookselling is strong, maybe it’s something [Amazon] hadn’t explored and wanted to for themselves…it’s almost a form of flattery. We’re doing something right as independents. That the big corporations are doing what I’m doing - it’s not quite reassuring but it almost [proof of] that you’re on the right lines."

Some publishers, meanwhile, have welcomed the move, saying it was to be predicted, following in the footsteps with other online companies such as Google, which has also announced it will open a physical store in London's Tottenham Court Road.

Stephen Page, c.e.o of Faber, said: "All retail is moving towards omni-channel retailing. Bricks and mortar retailers have been using online and digital marketing for sometime, so now it's no surprise that pure play online is moving into bricks and mortar. Amazon is not the only online player to be doing this. So it seems unsurprising and welcome to me."

Juliet Mabey, founder of Oneworld, said she was in "favour of more brick-and mortar stores in general", because the browsing experience in store was superior to online, and she’d personally like to see it remain "very much at the heart of reading and buying books". However, she added that she hoped the new Amazon venture would not affect the viability of Seattle's "wonderful, 40-year-old family-owned bookshop", The Elliott Bay Book Company. "This is the epitome of a great indie and is much loved by publishers and customers alike, so Amazon has picked a very tough location for its first foray into brick-and-mortar bookselling," Mabey said. "With over 150,000 titles in stock, Amazon will have plenty of competition."

Hazel Cushion, founder of Accent Press, said it was "great" Amazon had opened a bookshop. "It will give readers access to a diverse and inclusive range of titles from niche, independents, traditional and corporate publishers," she said. "Amazon aim to supply what’s demanded by the reader whether that is a self-published book or a traditionally published one. They will certainly help readers find new authors because they don’t have the same prejudice against print-on-demand that other retailers have."

The Amazon bookshop will use its online data to inform which books it stocks, based on customer ratings, pre-orders, sales, popularity on reader recommendation site Goodreads, and its curators’ assessments. It will stock all titles face-out and not stock the Amazon Publishing titles other rivals have declined to stock.

Independent retail analyst Nick Bubb said: "It’s clearly a trial in a trendy area located close to Amazon HQ in Seattle, but it sounds interesting in at least a couple of respects: the use of customer online spending data to select the books and the decision to stock the books on the shelves ‘face out’, which is a great idea."

Julia Kingsford from Kingsford and Campbell suggested that perhaps Amazon was moved to open a physical bookshop because "showrooming" - where customers discover books in a physical shop but then buy it online - is so important to the business.

"Showrooming has become an incredibly important part of their business which has directly squeezed bricks and mortar bookshops," Kingsford said. "As more shops close Amazon will have seen that have an impact on its business. Balancing that with their own shops was the logical step to maintain that valuable part of the market."

Philip Downer, former Borders boss who now owns a gift shop called Calliope Gifts, meanwhile, said he would be watching developments. "I imagine Amazon would want to roll out a few in relatively low-cost America before trying the concept elsewhere – particularly in the UK, where the occupancy costs are so high, and staff costs are climbing," he said, adding: "As to support or concern on the part of the industry, I think I’d be watching closely to understand what sort of a strategy might emerge here."