Seattle, Washington: my birthplace and the location of Amazon's headquarters. I’m back in the area celebrating with family over the Christmas holiday. I visited a bookstore (is anyone surprised? no? good.). The bookstore that everyone is buzzing about – Amazon’s first physical book retail location. It was actually my mom’s idea to check it out, and I wanted to see it as a sort of curiosity. Instead of visiting the zoo on the day after Christmas, we went to Amazon Books.
I have some thoughts (the entire bookselling community probably has some thoughts!), I’m a consumer and a book blogger, so I'm doing a consumer review. Could be fun, right? I’ve never done a bookstore review before, so bear with me.
The first thing is that Amazon Books is located in a really tony outdoor shopping district called University Village, right by the University of Washington campus. When I was a teenager, going shopping in University Village made me feel grown-up (aka fancy). I mean, there’s a Tiffany’s across the street from the Amazon Books location. So make of that what you will (they’re right where the money is).
I just realized that if I keep listing things one by one in numerical order I will never be done with this review. So here’s a big list of nice things about the bookstore: all of the books face out (so cover art is even more important than usual!), and they are arranged in general by interest area, but there are also a lot of freestanding shelves dedicated to award-winners, or Amazon’s top books of the year, or books for kids aged 9-12 who like sports, and so on. In short? The browsing experience is a little different than most bookshops I’ve been in.
The staff is super attentive – I was asked if I needed help 3 different times, and this while the place was totally packed! Also, the prices are the same as on the website (cheap!), and are not listed on labels (browsers are encouraged to do price checks on their phones). I also appreciated the Amazon star ratings and short reviews listed under every title in the store (in a “staff picks” fashion). I went around the YA section scanning the shelves for reviews by bloggers I recognize (I saw a couple!). The staff was also restocking while we were there, leading me to believe that the large number of browsers translated to sales.
Now onto the “cons” list: the bookstore had VERY small aisles. If someone was in one, you couldn’t get past. When I stood with my back pressed against the shelf behind me, I could barely see any of the books on the bottom shelf in front of me. In a crowded bookshop, that’s a major issue (and it was quite crowded). I also learned that Amazon Books only accepts cards for payment, no cash allowed. That seemed unnecessarily elitist, as the unbanked might appreciate lower prices on books more than anyone.
There was also very limited seating throughout the store (I assume to encourage browsing, but not too much browsing). That said, the window seats around the perimeter of the store were cool, according to my sister-in-law, who tried them out. My aunt noted that the store didn’t stock any Moleskine products (limited/no gift items) – the focus was on books and magazines only. I think the biggest difference between a traditional bookstore and Amazon Books (for me) were how few books there actually were in store. For the space, they fit in as many shelves as they could, and yet the majority of the selection was made up of newly-published books. The selection of backlist items was random and haphazard. There were also some notable holes in the selection – I kept looking all over for the Ron Chernow Hamilton biography, and couldn’t spot it. That would be front and center in any other bookstore right now, due to the popularity of the Broadway musical.
You may be wondering if I purchased anything at Amazon Books. I didn’t. But! My mother bought me an early birthday present. I picked out two books: adult fantasy Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho, and middle grade classic The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken.