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Almost single-handedly, Amazon, the online giant store, has redefined how we shop.

Amazon’s dominance in the book industry has been profound.  Large retail bookstore chains and small independent bookstores have been impacted greatly by the seemingly unstoppable growth of this online monolith forcing the closure of bookstores and changing the way we search for and purchase books.

And ….. it seems ….. there’s no end insight.  Amazon Books has launched into retail sales.  And, as they have in the past, Amazon have once again set out to redefine how we shop by using data driven stats to create book displays that tempt and guide the purchaser.

A not too happy account of how Amazon is reshaping bookstores appeared recently on the KOTTKE.ORG blog: Amazon’s data driven bookstores.  For the most part, this post laments the fact that online sales data rather than informed bookstore staff recommendations are being used to promote good reads to the public.

But, as in the past, little will stop the growth of this incredible market driven company.   As I blog, 7 Amazon Bookstores are already open in the US, with 6 more slated to be opening soon.  Without a doubt the current list will be updated regularly as the rollout across the US continues.

A recent post on Recode (a fabulous website I’ve just discovered!) gives an up close look inside the recently opened New York Amazon Bookstore.  In between the telling photos are some interesting observations by Dan Frommer – so take a few minutes and have a read of the post: Photos: Inside Amazon’s first New York City bookstore.

My day to day life is immersed in books.  Not only do I love reading, but my day time job revolves around igniting the magical spark of a ‘love of reading’ in young adults.  To nurture this love of reading, I  constantly make recommendations and, like the staff in book shops, I talk to my library patrons about the kinds of books they enjoy and ask what they have read previously to inform me about their tastes and interests.  The kind of philosophy that has dominated libraries and book shops for millennia – putting the right book into the right hands – cannot be achieved by relying solely on circulation or sales stats, the approach reportedly being adopted by Amazon Books.

Anything that encourages reading though is undoubtedly good!

So instead of looking at the flaws and mistakes of Amazon Bookstores, perhaps those of us encouraging and promoting books in schools can look at some of the great ideas being introduced by Amazon Bookstores and adopt them:

  • lots and lots of face out books for starters certainly makes for an appealing look
  • increased displays of ‘if you like this, how about this’ would also be welcome
  • and how about if we start using circulation stats in a big way to drive the creation of displays

Hmmmmm ….. it seems like I’ve just hit a new spark of inspiration!

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There probably aren’t too many people around today who haven’t been struck, at least once, with the ‘how much on Amazon’ syndrome.

It’s been sad to watch the demise of so many great book shops in our local shopping centres and shopping strips.   Don’t get me wrong though, I’m not talking here about the big chain book shops like Borders, but about the small independent book shops.  As exciting and inviting as some of them can be, it is apparent that when independent book shops try to ‘stand up’ to online shopping to the likes of Amazon, the writing on the wall is often plain to see.

I came across an interesting article just recently in The Huffington Post.  Packed full of interesting facts, the article Independent Bookstores: How to compete with Amazon was not your run of the mill article about the David and Goliath struggle that we’ve often witnessed over the last couple of years.  Written by Janaka Stucky,  I discovered (after a little investigative online searching!) that the article was originally published as an essay under the title How to survive in the age of Amazon on the Poetry Foundation website. Describing himself in the article as “an author, a publisher, a consumer, and a former indie bookstore employee”, Stucky paints for us an interesting perspective of the reality of the struggle between author, publisher distributor and consumer and the colossus company Amazon.   Valuable reading for all independent book shop owners!

Frightening as it may seem, Stucky highlights reality:

Amazon has a dynamic infrastructure with relatively low overhead that not only capitalizes on the latest technological developments but has begun driving them as well. Some market analysts speculate that Amazon sales will account for 50 percent of all book sales in the US by the end of 2012, which is stunning since book-selling has actually become the minority revenue stream for Amazon now that the company has branched out into a market for everything from video games to sex toys. Amazon has become a primary competitor not just to Barnes & Noble but also to Walmart, eBay, Apple’s iTunes, and even Netflix.”

It seems that the impetus for Stucky’s essay were two recent articles Amazon’s jungle logic  published in the New York Times last December and an article in Slate, an online magazine published daily on the Web, also published in December Don’t support your local bookseller.  Both of these articles highlighted the unsightly behaviour by Amazon who offered customers a five percent discount on purchases in exchange for them checking the cost of books in retail book shops by using the company’s price check app.  Not very nice corporate behaviour really, is it?!  No way to win friends and influence people!

What I really enjoyed about Stucky’s article is his advice to the owners of book shops.

But if what you want to do is promote a love for reading and the books you love to read, then you can begin transforming your store into a valuable resource for other people who share your passion.

In other words, he is advising book shop owners to do just what librarians and teacher librarians have always done in their public libraries and school libraries – sharing the joy of reading with their patrons through a range of events and programs that define the distinctive character of their book shop.

Don’t compete with Amazon.  Beat them at their own game!

There’s no doubt about it, all of us – school libraries, public libraries and book shops – must work together to create the buzz and ignite in our patrons the passion of the joy of reading in this The National Year of Reading!

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