Critics can't make up their minds about the new Amazon bookstores

Critics can't make up their minds about the new Amazon bookstores

CultureMay 24, 2017 By Brian Frederick

Amazon.com, ever heard of it? It's the online behemoth that has altered the way we shop for shit we don't need forever. As it stands, it's one of the most succesful brands in the world, a distinction that recently boosted founder and CEO Jeff Bezos from a paltry $45.2 billion net worth (5th in the world) to $73 billion in under a year — making him the second richest dude in the world behind Bill Gates. 

But its ongoing strategy suggests the massive retailer may be looking less toward the future of retail, aligning itself with a nostalgic shopping experience long destroyed by big box stores like Walmart and Target — places that are less about the feel of things and more about hurrying up and wasting an entire paycheck before being accosted by people who care what bathroom you use. To combat that (and the companies' profits), Amazon went ahead and built a few brick and mortar bookstores. All of which critics out there are having mixed reviews about.

[Elaine Thompson/AP]

In 2015, its first of maybe hundreds of stores opened in Seattle. Within the first few days of it being in service, writer Matt Weinberger for Business Insider described it as "the best of both worlds." In the store, book titles are available based on the reviews they receive on the site, he says. They're also categorized differently than a normal bookstore, often by customer suggestions, similar subjects and price. A price that is in no way different than what's posted online. 

But Thu-Huong Ha for Quartz has a different take. She feels like the place tries too hard, and it completely misses the point of why people love bookstores to begin with. "For the most part, the layout creates clutter that mirrors Amazon’s own site, except without the ease of actually getting the book you want quickly and cheaply," she says about the newest store, which opened today in Midtown Manhattan, the company's seventh. Simply browsing through and discovering new titles based on chance is completely wiped out of the Amazon bookstore experience, she adds, instead replaced by algorithmic guesses of what shoppers should buy not want to buy.

Which is probably just something everyone is going to have to get used to. We're in the age of big data, a time tech geeks believe that the things collected and filed in massive servers can somehow predict what it is people want. The downside? It kind of works. Humans are creatures of habit, after all, and if someone isn't able to mentally break away from convenience of having your soup spoon put in your mouth for you — instead branching out and adopting experiences — predictability becomes commonplace.

[Stephen Brashear/Getty]

Amazon is planning to open six more stores this year, including outlets in Bellevue, Wash., Paramus, N.J. and San Jose, Calif. And it likely won't stop at books, either. Just this year, a story of a bizarre patent made the rounds of something Amazon might be cooking up in the future. The diagrams and details of it include a big-ass warehouse blimp that contains mini delivery drones for quicker service. It wants big physical stores for all kinds of goods, too. It's coming.

Having not been in one, there can't be any absolutes coming from our end of the peanut gallery. However, we can't imagine a bookstore meant for hocking trends is going to hit any kind of memory sensor for anyone older than 32 — so don't expect it. Then again, that might not be a bad thing, considering change is inevitable and not embracing an oncoming lifestyle may serve only to leave a person in the shadows, completely incapable of understanding the fast-paced world around them. Bookstores of old existed for the culture, the hobby of thumbing through yellowing pages while having all five senses tackled as you killed time inside your own head. New companies feel that gets in the way of buying, though.

The future is frenetic, convenient and outside of individualism. Whether or not you agree, it's an experiment that will no doubt last for many ongoing decades, living well past anyone else who remembers how it used to be way back when.

There is always the option to just not shop there, too. The choice is still yours. For now.

[Stephen Brashear/Getty]