Gadgets are the real reason for Amazon's bookstores

Amazon is using its new shops to create a comfortable space for people to play with its gadgets.

Amazon is using its new shops to create a comfortable space for people to play with its gadgets.

Since Amazon opened its first brick and mortar bookstore in November, rumours have swirled about the online retailer's plans for more bookstores across the nation, with numbers between 10 and 400 outlets bandied about.

Over the weekend Amazon confirmed it plans to open a second bookstore in San Diego sometime this year, making its march into the physical world of bookselling seem more real.

But is Amazon actually building bookstores?

"No," says Rob Enderle, a tech industry analyst with the Enderle Group in Bend, Oregon.

"The books are just window dressing," he said.

Amazon's using them to create a comfortable space for people to come in and get acquainted with its electronics offerings, he said.

At this point that includes the Kindle Fire tablets, Amazon Fire TV and Echo, its popular voice-activated personal digital assistant, music player and all-around shopping aide, which now also comes in two smaller sizes, the Tap and the Dot.

"A lot of people are intimidated by electronics but they feel comfortable hanging out in a bookstore," Enderle said. If they go into a [tech store] they worry they'll be set upon by salespeople, but in a bookstore they feel safe.

That fits with John Mutter's impression's of Amazon's Seattle store. Mutter is editor-in-chief of Shelf Awareness, a bookstore industry newsletter.

He found it striking that while there are bookshelves around the perimeter of the Seattle store, the middle was taken up with large tables displaying Amazon's various electronics for people to touch and interact with.

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"It definitely felt like the centrepiece of the store was the devices," he said.

During the 45 minutes he spent observing the store, Mutter said he didn't see anyone carrying any printed books and no-one actually buying anything.

And unlike in a normal bookstore where the books are shelved spine out, as in a library, at the Amazon store the books are shelved face out, with lots of space between them.

"If you see a bookstore with the books face out, you think, 'Oh no, their cash flow is horrible, they can't afford to buy inventory,'" he said.

Instead, Amazon is announcing it will open a second store.

Mutter says "good sources" in the book world put the number of projected Amazon brick and mortar stores at between 12 and 18.

 - MCT

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