Randall Payleitner


I Went to Amazon’s Physical Bookstore And…

Amazon Books

In most respects, it was everything a bookstore should and could be. And, since I presume every square inch of that store was stocked based on real consumer-driven data (rather than publisher dollars or biased planogramers) I can’t even get mad that there were more books on witchcraft than there were on the Bible—as a book publisher, I took it as a personal challenge.

Here were my biggest nine impressions after spending an hour at the newest bookstore in Chicago:

(1) All the Books Are Face Out—No Spines!

Absolutely the first thing you notice upon being in the store for .4 seconds is that every single book is face out! It’s magical. This decision most closely replicates all the best parts of shopping online, while also giving you a tactical, artistic, and practical experience in real physical life. The end result is that I could have easily spent hundreds of dollars there. I wanted to buy so many more of these books than I would have otherwise.

The practical trade-off, of course, is that per square foot they probably can only fit about 1/5 as many different titles in the store. But, who cares?! I wouldn’t come in here looking for some random old backlist title—that’s what their website is for. I’d come in here to browse, learn about, and buy books that I didn’t even know I wanted before I walked in.

(2) The Largest Section was “Children's”

It took up about 1/6 of the store. Just like Children’s books take up about 1/6 of the Top 100 books in any given day on the website. So, this makes perfect sense. It is also one of the greatest reasons we have for hope for the future of humanity… Parents who are still reading books to their kids! Kids who still want to read books! Somehow, this warms my heart and makes me think good things about the future.

(3) The Second Largest Section is “Biography.”

There were biographies of comedians, YouTube stars, presidents, and ballplayers all right next to each other. This is the era of publishing that we live in—one part history, one part intrigue, one part voyeurism, and one part personal takeaway. The titles are creative and the price points are high.

(4) “If You Like… Then You’ll Love…” was a Staple

Just like on Amazon.com: If you like The Great Gatsby… Then you’ll love these other four books. Proven out by data. It seems that even though these were played out specifically on just a few shelves, the whole store was built on this one algorithm.

(5) The Highly Rated (4.8 or better) Books were at the Front

If you take 2 steps inside the door, you will run into a waist high table/shelf with 40 books on it, all rated 4.8 stars or better on Amazon. It’s another version of “What are my friends reading?” Or “Fear of Missing Out.” And, it’s genius. They weren’t the bestsellers or books placed there with publisher dollars or by the NYT bestseller list. The first books you see are the ones that the most number of readers found to be the best. Chalk one up for editorial quality.

(6) The Lighting was Purposeful and Beautiful

I don’t know how to explain it other than that the light fixtures and the lighting itself were perfectly and non-distractingly placed so as to make the book covers stand out. There were stage lights on every book cover. If this is any indication, book covers and book cover design will only continue to remain as critical as ever. Eat your heart out spines—book covers are king in the new Amazon Books store.

(7) No CDs in the Store. But There was Some Vinyl

In the “other than books” category, there wasn’t much. See point 9 below. But of particular note: there was nary a compact disc or DVD to be seen. However, there were a number of vinyl records for sale. This seemed to me to be both a vote for nostalgia and a vote for big artwork—in the same vein as quality book covers, quality album artwork was on vivid display.

(8) I Only Saw About 10 Adult Coloring Books… 

In yet another encouraging sign of the times, I only saw about 10 adult coloring books. Now, we can all get back to publishing books with words in them. Phew.

(9) Barely Any Junk, Just Books!

One of the largest tech companies in the world just opened a physical store where 90+% of the merchandise for sale is based on 500-year old technology. They were certainly selling their Amazon wares (Kindles, Echoes, Prime Memberships, etc.) and some assorted items (a few board games… and blenders?)… But the net result of my trip was that I wanted to buy so, so many books. And that’s good news.