Amazon Didn’t Kill Bookstores: If Anything, It Saved Them

Amazon Bookstore rumors are going crazy across the web, with many speculating that the Seattle standalone brick-and-mortar store that the online retailer recently launched could be the first in a 400-store rollout.

The rumor comes from a mall CEO, who blew the whistle on Amazon’s interest in a large number of spaces throughout the country and stems from this CNBC report.

The company does not comment on rumors and speculation, but that didn’t stop Gizmodo’s Matt Novak from painting it in a negative light, musing how ironic it was that Amazon sees a future in a “dead tree” market it was responsible for all-but-killing.

Novak’s characterization of Amazon’s Bookstore killing ways is, of course, wrong; but it repeats a common piece of mythology widely believed among those who have no idea what they’re talking about — that Amazon put poor Borders and Waldenbooks and other one-time major book chains out of business and, in so doing, killed bookstores altogether.

See video below for more nonsense.

While it may be true that Amazon killed a few book sellers by beating them at their own game of mass quantities and prices too cheap for Mom-and-Pop shops to compete with, it’s so-called “predatory” and “monopolistic” pricing was an invention of its corporate competitors.

Blaming Amazon for killing bookstores, under these terms anyway, is like raiding the Social Security program for other purposes, then blaming the people in office for “bankrupting” the fund when it finally hits zero.

The independent bookstore was in a free fall before Amazon ever got around to cashing in, and most of the blame for that belonged to the “Titanics,” whose ships sank by the very tactics they used to kill their smaller brethren.

If anything, Amazon actually saved the bookstore by opening up new options and wresting control from the major chains. But don’t trust hearsay.

In December, 2015, the Washington Post reported that independent and used bookstores were making a comeback with rising print and dipping eBook sales among the top five traditional publishers.

Indie publishers are still seeing tremendous growth in the eBook market by pricing content at a cheaper rate than the so-called “Big Five” publishers, thus removing one of the biggest barriers to entry for new independent authors.

As a result, consumers are starting to see the value in used bookstores — which many independents either are, or support in some way (i.e. a used book section).

With trillions of words available for human consumption through the longstanding print book industry, used bookstores have been able to win on selection and pricing, even beating out Amazon in many cases.

The online retailer even helps out with this by giving used booksellers the opportunity to sell through Amazon in exchange for a small cut of the overall sale. Whether altruistically or unintentionally, Amazon also gives these bookstores/booksellers the opportunity to channel their customers offsite.

Example: you search for a book on Amazon, find that a used seller has it, and then search the rest of their inventory. From there, the curious can easily find many of these small booksellers’ websites and buy directly from them, which is beneficial to both online-only stores and brick-and-mortar hybrids.

And going back to selection, it’s quite easy to find enough content in a used bookstore — at a fraction of the price — and wait for newer hardbacks priced at $30 to become available at more affordable prices.

You’re not going to run out of reading material in the time that it takes The Girl in the Spider’s Web to move from hardback to trade paperback, so why not wait?

If you just can’t, however, it’s a lot easier spending that $30 on a hardback if you are supplementing it with a “30-used-books-for-$60-fire-sale.”

It brings the cost per book down and makes you feel better about the more expensive purchase, in other words.

All this happened because Amazon took on the big chain bookstore and breathed new life into the smaller bookstore market.

Perhaps a “thank you” is in order?

[Image via Flickr Creative Commons, User: Zhao!]