The information age has not been kind to the humble bookstore. After mega-chains valiantly tried and failed to compete with the 800-pound gorilla that is Amazon, only Barnes & Noble is left in the US (and it's quickly becoming a showroom for LEGO and Pop Vinyl toys as much as an actual bookseller). A few indies are surviving thanks to a small resurgence of dead tree reading and some trendy makeovers, but the writing is on the wall. It's almost poetic, and no doubt maddening to bookstore owners everywhere, that Amazon is reportedly going to attempt a revival.
The Wall Street Journal quotes Sandeep Mathrani, the CEO of General Growth Properties Incorporated, who says that Amazon intends to open "300 to 400" brick-and-mortar bookstores in the United States. General Growth is the owner and operator of 120 malls and similar retail centers, so presumably we're talking about smaller mall-sized bookstores, the niche that stores like Waldenbooks and Book World used to occupy (and in some cases, still do). Amazon already has a relatively tiny retail presence in a few US malls, but only at kiosks selling Kindle devices and accessories. Amazon operates exactly one full retail store in its home city of Seattle, selling physical books and electronics.
The WSJ estimates that it would take years for Amazon to successfully buy or lease so many properties and get stores operating, but the initial rollout could begin more or less at any time. Assuming that this is true (and that's a big assumption, since a mall CEO would stand to benefit enormously from such a development), it's a safe bet that Amazon stores would sell Kindle e-readers, Kindle Fire tablets, Fire TVs, and other Amazon hardware like the Echo. Amazon stores would also be ideal places for in-store pickups and returns for orders placed on the website.
- Wall Street Journal
Two days after this story broke, the original source is looking sketchy, if not totally debunked. Sandeep Mathrani (whom we mentioned isn't totally unbiased when it comes to retail stores) has retracted his original remarks. CNBC reports that he "indicated that a comment he made convening Amazon was not intended to represent the company's plans."
And indeed, there are indications that someone at Amazon was quite upset at this particular story; Matt Novak of Gawker says he's spoken to anonymous Amazon employees who said that the initial report was "misleading." Even so, Amazon has so far refused to state anything on the record, though Novak says his sources have become increasingly upset.
Various outlets from The New York Times to re/code to industry-specific site Shelf Awareness report that Amazon is indeed pushing for some kind of retail presence, though the "300-400 stores" figure may be wildly inflated. Instead Amazon will reportedly open "a dozen or so stores" over the next two years. At this point no one is citing on-the-record sources from Amazon or any potential retail or real estate partners, so you can consider the whole thing speculative.
- The Digital Reader
Photo credit: Brent Colby (Google Maps)