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Seattle Bookstores Embrace Amazon.com 83

Posted by samzenpus
from the keep-your-enemies-close dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Even though many independent bookstores around the country blame their closing on competition from Amazon.com, bookstores in Seattle are booming thanks to Amazon's growth. It turns out many of the thousands of new workers at their downtown headquarters are avid readers who prefer shopping at the local stores. '"A lot of our customers work at Amazon," said Tracy Taylor, the general manager at the Elliott Bay Book Company, one of the city's largest independent booksellers. The store, about a mile from Amazon headquarters, last year earned what Ms. Taylor called the "first substantial profit" in almost 20 years, enough to even pay employee bonuses.'"
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Seattle Bookstores Embrace Amazon.com

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  • by danbuter (2019760) on Sunday April 13, 2014 @10:58PM (#46743987)
    Amazon does have tons of books I might not find otherwise, but I still love just wandering around in a bookstore for hours, just browsing. I've found a number of great books that way, that I likely never would have seen just searching a website.
    • by zippthorne (748122) on Sunday April 13, 2014 @11:00PM (#46743999) Journal

      After you browsed through the real bookstores, where did you buy them?

      • by danbuter (2019760)
        From the bookstore. I like to support the locals. Also, Pennsylvania charges sales tax on any internet orders, especially stuff from Amazon, so there's not as much benefit that way.
        • by Anonymous Coward

          Meanwhile the rest of us use the barcode scanner in the amazon app.

      • by JanneM (7445)

        After you browsed through the real bookstores, where did you buy them?

        I usually both browse and buy at real bookstores. In fact, I sometimes browse on Amazon (the ratings are very useful), then buy at the bookstore.

        Why? Because even when the price difference is large, the absolute price is still quite low. Besides, these days the price difference often isn't actually very large anymore, once you add the cost of shipping. The difference may be that of a plain cup of coffee or less for a book I may spend week

        • Welcome to the minority you share with the employees at Amazon HQ.

          • by JanneM (7445)

            Welcome to the minority you share with the employees at Amazon HQ.

            What minority? Most people do work or have other income sources (even though unemployment is alarmingly high the world over). And my income is slightly less than the average for people my age where I live.

            My point was that books are not an expensive indulgence; not in absolute terms and not compared to other everyday extras ranging from movie tickets, coffee-shop coffe or music buys, to weekend beers or tobacco.

            I'm not saying the price differ

          • by jkauzlar (596349)

            I was recently at Powell's in Portland (which just had major renovations) and it was crowded on a weekday afternoon. In Seattle, Elliott Bay and the University Bookstore are often hard to browse due to all the people. It's not just Amazon employees, but a lot of people just enjoy browsing books. On the other hand, the cashier lines at any of these places are not as long as they'd been in days past.

        • I have money to spend and little time, but I'm not sure how I would save myself time by driving to a bookstore when the mailroom guys will drop it by my desk tomorrow, and all I have to do is sign for it. I can't get to the stairwell in the time it takes to sign for a book. Maybe you drive faster.
          • by JanneM (7445) on Monday April 14, 2014 @03:42AM (#46744947) Homepage

            I wasn't considering the time spent shopping for books, whether on an online site or in a store, but the overall time I have to read. Besides, browsing the store is part of the fun, not a chore. I basically count that as part of my reading time.

            • That's reasonable, if that's what you enjoy. If I'm near a really great bookstore for some reason I love to browse too, but they are increasingly rare, and living near Powells Books in Portland, Oregon for a while really raised that bar for me. So yeah, it's seldom worth my ever shrinking free time to do. But it depends on how much time one has and how much joy it brings one, I can see that.
          • by Aighearach (97333)

            A lot of people already leave the house other than for work, so they're already near the bookstore while out doing other things. So they don't have to drive to the bookstore. They just walk in the door.

            • Yeah, I go out places, I'm more about reading the book than wandering around in the store; in fact I love my paper white Kindle for the convenience it provides. When I want to look at books I go to a used book store like Powells or a public library. Much more interesting. As the cute Asian girls say, "up to you".
        • by nabsltd (1313397)

          Besides, these days the price difference often isn't actually very large anymore, once you add the cost of shipping.

          I always have plenty of stuff in my "buy it when I get a chance" list that I never pay for shipping from Amazon.

          I used to wander through a lot of bookstores and book sales from colleges/charities/etc., but I don't any more, since I can pretty much always find exactly what I want by searching Amazon. In addition, I don't have to puzzle through the bookstore category system to figure out where a book might be. A great example of this is that I pretty much like everything that Isaac Asimov has ever written,

    • by firex726 (1188453)

      Same for movies too, sites like Amazon have a huge catalogue but I am just browsing then it's hard to beat an actual store.

    • by Wycliffe (116160) on Sunday April 13, 2014 @11:19PM (#46744093) Homepage

      I tend to browse the local library rather than the bookstore. My local library even
      has a coffee shop inside now. So I can browse at the library and if I decide I later
      want to own the book, I buy it at amazon. I tend to only use the local bookstore
      anymore for buying gifts.

      • I do the same with gifts (usually because it's a last-minute thing), but lately I've been looking at AbeBooks before Amazon. In most cases I'm looking for books that have been out for longer than a year and it's amazing how many almost-recently-published books are available for the cost of shipping (around $3.50 USD). I make sure I'm buying from a bookseller that's relatively close to my location and things arrive quickly, too. We did a lot of Christmas book shopping that way last year and I have zero compl
    • I preferred the large Canadian bookstores.

      Small bookstores typically just don't have the selection, and American big bookstores seemed...standoffish? It can be really hard to describe just in what way it was less pleasant. Part of it is a structure that encourages you to read lengthy passages in the store back home that I haven't seen in a larger bookstore in the US. I fully admit I haven't travelled the length and breadth of either country; I'm just going with the places I've been.

      I go to Amazon for som

    • by Tumbleweed (3706)

      Amazon does have tons of books I might not find otherwise, but I still love just wandering around in a bookstore for hours, just browsing. I've found a number of great books that way, that I likely never would have seen just searching a website.

      While I find books that way, too, I tend to find a LOT more stuff I like because of the recommendations on Amazon. Those algorithms are scary good nowadays.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by bluefoxlucid (723572)

      I've found Barnes & Noble to be stocked with whatever they can find that's made of paper and glue, mostly garbage of no note, or stuff that was a top-seller 50 years ago. It seems to be a random selection of whatever sells, like a scifi compendium called "Ultimate Dick" carrying the works of Philip K. Dick because you know people will buy something called "Ultimate Dick" ... right next to some 3rd-grade-reading-level pulp that costs a dollar on Amazon and was printed by Del Rey, the go-to publisher fo

    • Last time we were at Barnes and Nobel, we looked at a number of books (we promised my son a new book if he behaved well on our mall trip, which he did).

      We looked at several books, but they wouldn't price match Amazon so we left with one book (a cheaper one) and added the rest to my son's Amazon Wishlist instead of buying 2-3 more expensive books.

  • by Kittenman (971447) on Sunday April 13, 2014 @11:17PM (#46744089)
    Whether it's Amazon or not is irrelevant. In any large company, there's going to be a percentage who like the dead tree copies of the book. Got to a restaurant when the staff are on a break, you'll find some folks eating Mackers/KFC/their own sandwiches.

    Where you work doesn't dictate where you shop.
    • by Kwyj1b0 (2757125) on Monday April 14, 2014 @12:19AM (#46744307)

      Whether it's Amazon or not is irrelevant. In any large company, there's going to be a percentage who like the dead tree copies of the book. Got to a restaurant when the staff are on a break, you'll find some folks eating Mackers/KFC/their own sandwiches.

      This. The greater the population, the more people will wander into your store - even if it is just to get out of the rain. Sudden showers also drive traffic to your store. Is rainfall your new ally?

      OTOH, I find it silly that people talk about Amazon being the enemy of your company. The true enemy of your organization was that you were relying on physical constraints to force customers to your store due to a lack of choice - especially now that Amazon is charging tax in many states. If you provide a service to your customers that Amazon cannot duplicate (being non-physical) then there will be a sizeable segment of the population that will flock to you. I visit my public library and stores because they offer a benefit that Starbucks and BitTorrent do not - a special of the day, an illusion (and sometimes real) friendliness, and an update on local events that I don't get from a vending machine. If you claim Starbucks is driving you out of business, you would have gone out of business by a bunch of vending machines.

      Yes, amazon can run at a loss much longer than my local bookstore owner can - which is why she is friendly, holds book reading events, and takes an effort to ensure her customers leave the store happy. She doesn't compete with Amazon on price - she does it on service. When my Kindle DX malfunctioned long after the warranty expired, Amazon customer service replaced it without hesitation. Best Buy would charge me a restocking fee if I changed my mind five seconds after I paid.

      • This reminds me of another, somewhat offtopic issue that bothered me in Europe.

        I found European stores very unwelcoming in Finland in part because of the lack of public restrooms. In downtown Helsinki, pretty much only Stockman's had a public restroom on ONE floor and it was a 15 minute wait if you wanted to use it. My girlfriend says this is fairly common around Europe. I found that during a day of travelling, I had to plan my day around my urge to pee, which was very annoying. In the US, you can go in

    • by Anonymous Coward

      The unstated part of the equation is Amazon's explicit core value of frugality that keeps them from offering employees a discount when buying from Amazon. If Amazon were like Google and gave employees Kindles whenever they released a new model, they'd likely see more of them buying eBooks instead of the dead tree versions. If they offered an employee discount on stuff bought from amazon.com, they'd probably see employees buying their dead tree versions from Amazon. But because they cheap out on employee per

  • Although not in Seattle, from what I can see most people who do not shop from Amazon shop at Powell's. I guess they think Powell's is cooler. But here is the rub. I often order books through Amazon from other book dealers. Amazon gives these bookstores the online infrastructure and allows them to reach an audience outside of the neighborhood, and an Audience, that, like me, hasn't spent hours in a bookstore going through books, at least has not done so in a decade or so. I read the reviews, and but the
    • Amazon only is profitable by lying claiming the people in Amazon warehouses filling Amazon orders in all those Amazon boxes aren't amazon employees.

      • I'm genuinely curious. If they're doing the whole "Hire Contractors to dodge taxes" thing that really only works for a few of the most undesirable jobs (auto part runners come to mind) where they can take advantage of ex cons. For anything else sooner or later the IRS notices and drops the hammer.
      • by fermion (181285)
        Not sure what this has to do with anything, even though it is true. I order through amazon from independent book dealers. The books appears to come from the dealers, packed by the dealers, often with a nice note from the dealers.

        The article states that the workers in the amazon warehouse are frequenting the book sellers in the area. Whether they are treated badly, these workers have the disposable income to buy a book. I am big book buyer, but there have been times in my life when I went to the library

      • by Aighearach (97333)

        In my town, regardless of industry, warehouse workers are mostly employees of temp agencies, and usually only get hired on at a company after working there as a "temp" for over a year.

        There is nothing sinister about it, these jobs have high turnover, from all causes, and generally they would have to hire multiple HR people just to manage them. The temp agencies are in a better position to manage workers who often don't last in an assignment. Maybe Joe Worker does fine the first 3 months, but then starts to

    • by Aighearach (97333)

      My town's largest independent bookstore, 100+ miles from Powell's, is still doing good business at both their traditional locations. They mix new and used copies on the shelves. They also give 10% discount off cover price on all new books; they can do that because many of those books will be sold back after being read, and can be sold again (and again) as used.

      Multiple book super-stores have opened and then closed outlets here. The premium new-book superstores, which are not independent, just can't compete.

  • by adityamalik (997063) on Monday April 14, 2014 @12:49AM (#46744415)
    I'm a voracious reader and used to buy from bookstores on a weekly basis. Over the last few years I switched almost entirely to getting books online, and of late, more and more, that means buying them on amazon. The reason for the shift has primarily been availability of the books I want to read in stores. Now I understand that there are millions of books out there with thousands more getting added everyday, so decentralized bookstores are inherently at a huge disadvantage to centralized means like amazon. The amount of unproductive working capital tied up in store inventory will ensure this, leave alone rent, staff and utilities of a brick and mortar establishment.

    But, assuming many other people have a similar story, what continues to surprise me is how little or how poorly bookstores seem to have adapted to this. If I were a bookstore owner I would try one of these things, none of which I have seen evidence of any bookstores here trying in a meaningful or impactful way:
    1. Aggressively analyze traffic and tweak the assortment continuously
    2. Track what I read, suggest books, inform me when they get related stuff in-store
    3. If they don't have a book I want, promise to send it home the next day or later the same day
    4. Reward my loyalty and value to them meaningfully. By that I mean that if I'm the kind of guy who buys regularly and from a predictable set then invest a significant portion of their margins on my purchases back into growing their relationship with me
    5. Start 'membership programs' that help me get control over my spend on books
    6. Make bookstores a really pleasant place for me and my family to spend time in
    8. Support the physical book ecosystem.. start a program to take back books and free up precious shelf space in my home
    9. Specialize.. trying to keep all the books relevant to everyone is a recipe for disaster imho, will end up keeping a bare minimum in any area and leave everyone dissatisfied

    To folks in the bookstore business and slashdotters in other countries (I'm in India) - Do you feel nearly enough is being done?
    • by antifoidulus (807088) on Monday April 14, 2014 @01:17AM (#46744503) Homepage Journal
      Um, you pretty much described EXACTLY what Barnes and Noble tried to do, and it didn't really work out all that well for them(the execution may have left something to be desired but). They aren't doing horrible, all things considered, but they aren't exactly booming either. If they don't have a book you want you can order it on line and have it sent to where you live, they have a loyalty program, they have added cafes and play areas to their stores etc.

      It doesn't work largely because it's very difficult for them to compete on price, and the explosion of smart phones in the past half decade means that it's really easy for me to find the same book online, either e-book or dead tree. Before the smartphone explosion they weren't doing terrible in spite of the same disadvantages in terms of price and selection, largely because people did not want to go to a bookstore, note down which books they want then go home connect to the internet and order them. So people were more willing to just buy it there, and maybe grab a coffee at the cafe while they read. However with smartphones it doesn't matter how inviting you make the place, I can still order the same book online and be out of there in less time than it would take to wait in line at the register. It's going to be very difficult for brick and mortar stores to compete in the age of smartphones. Maybe if they could figure out how to adapt 3d printing to books, i.e. if there is a book you want to read in dead tree, you can order it on your phone, go grab a coffee and have a copy waiting for you when you leave. Then maybe the brick-and-mortar places could compete, since they wouldn't have to have nearly as much capital tied up in books, but until then they are doomed.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        The last time I tried buying a book from a real book store, was at Borders. I noticed the book I went there for was around 10% more expensive in person than on their own website. I told the sales rep and expected them to match the online price. She said they would not match the price, because in the store you are paying for the convenience of getting the book immediately, versus having to wait a few days. So if I didn't need to the book immediately, to buy it online and wait. So I did buy it online, fro

        • by mwvdlee (775178) on Monday April 14, 2014 @03:18AM (#46744859) Homepage

          You do realize the sales rep was probably being honest?

          • by Kjella (173770)

            Well, he's using the only sales argument he has from the customer's point of view. From the store's point of view though they won't sell it at the same price you get online because they need to pay for location, staff, deal with shoplifters and books that go stale and unsold that need to be taken off the shelves again. It's better for them not to take your business rather than open up Pandora's box and have people coming in expecting to be price matched, taking up sales rep time and getting angry if they're

            • From the store's point of view though they won't sell it at the same price you get online because they need to pay for location, staff, deal with shoplifters and books that go stale and unsold that need to be taken off the shelves again.

              I have had the same experience with Barnes and Noble where the same book is listed as cheaper on their website than it is in person.

              I find it just a little dishonest because in general you assume that if you visit the website of a store that the price listed on the website will match what you will pay in the store. I don't think they would "open pandora's box" if they changed this policy, though I suspect that they maintain it to have it both ways: beating Amazon on price online and charging whatever they w

      • by Guy Harris (3803)

        Um, you pretty much described EXACTLY what Barnes and Noble tried to do, and it didn't really work out all that well for them(the execution may have left something to be desired but).

        Other big-box book retailers haven't succeeded at that, either. [theonion.com]

        But TFA seems to be talking more about independent bookstores than the "brick-and-mortar" chain bookstores that gave the independent bookstores trouble a while ago.

      • There is some technology akin to 3d printing for books, such as the Espresso Book Machine which can print an entire book in a couple of minutes. Some universities have these machines, but I'm not sure if they will ever have much popularity outside of an academic setting.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E... [wikipedia.org]

        • JIT Printing FTW. (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Luciano Moretti (2887109) on Monday April 14, 2014 @11:27AM (#46747797)

          I'm surprised more bookstores haven't embraced JIT Printing: Don't see what you want on the shelf? We can print & bind it for you in 10 minutes. Make it have the ability to choose paper weight, cover (hard or softcover), font size, etc and you may be able to add enough value to sell it at a higher profit than a mass-market printing. Just being able to offer a back-catalog or out-of-print options is a huge win IMO.

      • It doesn't work because my modest library has more good books than their entire multi-level megastore downtown!
      • This. As a former bookstore owner, the parent grasps what the grandparent is clueless about.

      • Maybe if they could figure out how to adapt 3d printing to books

        It's called "printing". It was pretty much 2D the last time I checked, but it worked.

        Joking aside, this model is used by publishers and is called "print on demand". It sucks mostly because the quality of the print varies enormously. I've had both very good and horrible experiences. On the other hand, I would expect professional grade printing equipment to cost way more than shelf space, so I doubt that such an idea could save the traditional bookstores.

  • Book Store Embrace Of Death!

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