Amazon opens physical bookstore in the heart of NY publishing

The online retailer that put a lot of book stores out of business opened a book store in the US publishing capital.VIDEO: REUTERS
Amazon will open its new bookstore at the Time Warner Center in Manhattan today.
Amazon will open its new bookstore at the Time Warner Center in Manhattan today.PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK •Mr Jeff Bezos, chief executive officer of Amazon, has often struck a defiant tone when asked about the company's dominance of the book industry.

"Amazon is not happening to bookselling," he said in a 2013 interview. "The future is happening to bookselling."

But when he made that remark four years ago, even a visionary like Mr Bezos might not have imagined that the future would look so retro.

After contributing to the demise of many brick-and- mortar bookshops, Amazon has made a surprising pivot, with plans for a growing constellation of bookstores around the United States.

Now, it is taking its experimental, data-driven approach to physical retail to mid-town Manhattan, the heart of the publishing industry.

Today, Amazon will open a store - its seventh - in the Time Warner Center in Columbus Circle.

The 4,000-sq-ft space, near the site of a nowshuttered Borders store, is just a few blocks from Penguin Random House and within walking distance of Simon & Schuster and Hachette's Midtown headquarters.

This summer, the company plans to open another store in 34th Street.

In a city that prides itself on being a literary haven, the response to Amazon's arrival was, unsurprisingly, mixed.

"I'm happy there's a new store where people can see books and encounter them, but I'd rather we were in there," said Mr Chris Doeblin, owner of Book Culture, an independent store on the Upper West Side. "If I had the money, I would go and open a store right next to Jeff Bezos' store."

Amazon is planning to open six more stores this year, including outlets in the states of Washington, New Jersey and California.

The push into physical stores might seem at odds with its origins as an online retailer.

But it fits with Amazon's continuing expansion into nearly every corner of the publishing industry.

Since its founding more than 20 years ago, it has become the dominant book retailer and has created niches along the way.

It accounts for nearly half of all book sales in the US, including print and e-books, according to Codex Group, which analyses the industry.

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 nine imprints.

Last week, the company introduced Amazon Charts, weekly bestseller lists that track not only the top-selling digital and print books on Amazon, but also the ones that customers spend the most time reading.

Drawing on data collected from Kindle users and Audible listeners, the most-read list compiles which books are most popular with its customers across digital formats. It is data that Amazon has long collected, but never made widely public.

With its lists, it aims to redefine the notion of a bestseller, expanding it to include books that are "borrowed" from its e-book subscription service and those that are streamed on Audible.

As a result, the lists give increased visibility to books that might not typically appear on other bestseller lists, such as The New York Times' or The Wall Street Journal's.

The inaugural Amazon Charts list for most-sold fiction has five books from Amazon Publishing, out of 20 on the list.

"This is their attempt to push back and say, 'We're legitimate'," said Mr Peter Hildick-Smith, president of the Codex Group.

All of Amazon's acquisitions and new features are having a cumulative effect, allowing the company to draw on its vast customer base and troves of data to discover what is popular and return that information to customers, creating a lucrative feedback loop.

Eventually, the weekly bestseller lists may be incorporated into displays in Amazon's bookstores and perhaps posted on Goodreads.

They are already available on Alexa, Amazon's virtual assistant, which will recite the new bestseller lists when asked.

"Amazon created a new model and now it is hijacking the bestseller list idea to conform to what it was doing," said Mr Mike Shatzkin, chief of Idea Logical, a book industry consulting firm.

"It's definitely an intrusion of its business model into the overall ecosystem."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 25, 2017, with the headline 'Amazon opens physical bookstore in the heart of NY publishing'. Print Edition | Subscribe