Amazon started as an online bookseller. However, despite these roots, the e-commerce giant has decided for now to fold on their physical retail bookstore chain, Amazon Books.
As first reported by Reuters and later covered by Publishers Weekly, Amazon announced that it would close all 24 of its physical bookstores. The internet giant opened the first of these 24 bookstores in 2015, its premier location making its debut in Seattle. Over the next few years, Amazon opened Amazon Books shops in 12 states, Washington, D.C., and the United Kingdom.
Bookstores aren’t the only locations that Amazon is closing. The company is shuttering a total of 68 locations, which include the aforementioned bookstores, supermarkets, cashierless convenience stores, pop-ups, and locations within its Amazon 4-Star department store program.
Despite these closures, Amazon plans to shift laid-off workers and other resources to soon-to-open locations at its grocery store subsidiary, Amazon Fresh, as well as Amazon supermarket acquisition, Whole Foods.
The withdrawal from book retail is a telling admission of defeat for Amazon, as the company’s success had contributed to the destruction of many book retail stores, most notably Borders. Moreover, it’s yet another sign that success in the online space doesn’t automatically translate to physical retail, even for one of the world’s largest companies.
Who wins from Amazon Books’ loss?
Even as Amazon momentarily forfeits its efforts in the physical retail spaces, other parties will walk away as winners: independent bookstores and self-published authors.
Independent bookstores will benefit from Amazon’s retreat for several reasons. The most straightforward one is competition: while Amazon will continue competing with the indies with cutthroat low margins, broader selections, and fast Prime delivery, at least the e-commerce website won’t be butting heads with indies within the brick-and-mortar sphere.
This windfall is significant for independent bookstores at this point of the pandemic. With the omicron wave plummeting, even the most restrictive places in the US are seeking to lift the last of their COVID-19 precautions as consumers flock back to physical retail spaces. So while Amazon Books won’t close overnight, news of the program’s impending end will give its indie competitors an edge during an anticipated surge of in-person shopping.
Amazon Books’ failure also reflects well upon the strengths of independent bookstores. Amazon attempted to break into retail by leveraging Big Data, a wide selection, and even showcasing Amazon reviews.
However, none of Amazon’s online strength seems to replace the personal, local touch of independent bookstores. What independent bookstores lack in scope, they make up with depth, being more equipped to cater to their neighboring communities than an international chain like Amazon Books.
It may sound less intuitive why self-publishing authors may benefit from Amazon Books’ demise. After all, Amazon’s Kindle Direct Program has been integral to the careers of many self-published authors.
However, self-publishing authors share an advantage with independent bookstores in that indie authors have better access to independent bookstores than big retailers.
Amazon may help self-published authors better in the electronic space, where shelf space is limitless, and the cost of “stocking” an e-book is microscopic. However, this is a different story in brick-and-mortar stores, where major book chains only have so much room for books and usually only stock traditionally published titles.
Furthermore, self-published authors have more barriers to getting big retailers to give them the time of day. You can’t walk into a Barnes & Noble or an Amazon Books store and ask the owner if they can buy some of your copies to sell.
Independent bookstores are a whole other matter. As indie stores survive and thrive based on personal relationships, most are willing to talk with local authors. This opens up opportunities for both parties: you get the chance to have your self-published book sold on an actual bookstore shelf, and they get to show off their commitment to regional authors.
At an independent bookstore, a self-published author has the chance of being featured on a window display or front-door table, and indie bookstores are always looking for local authors to host book signings and other author events. None of this can be done with a big player like Amazon Books.
It’s unknown whether Amazon will reattempt physical bookselling in the future. But for now, the smaller players in the book industry have one less giant to worry about.