- "We're not a regular giant retailer. We're a cool giant retailer!"
Today's Ouroboros: Giant everything retailer and alleged bad employer Amazon has opened a brick 'n' mortar bookstore in Seattle. It's got a very... clean look: a limited selection of books positioned cover-first on the shelves, with little placards featuring reviews you could read on the website. It's a blank slate to read all kinds of irony onto, but the history of its location is its own microcosm of the shifting book industry as a whole.
There used to be a bookstore in the bougie little mall where Amazon's new shop is housed (though named cutesy, collegiate "University Village," it's less Forever 21, more Lululemon). It was a perfectly serviceable Barnes & Noble where as a child I honed my weekend hobby of book-browsing for hours at a time. What it lacked in character it made up for in its sprawling selection. Now it's gone, and by contrast, Amazon's new store looks a bit like a glorified Waldenbooks. It's kind of puny, which is maybe the point. Perhaps Amazon isn't interested in looking like the giant it is. Maybe the brave new frontier isn't so much IRL bookselling as emulating the scale and atmosphere of small, independent bookstores—it'll stock 5,000-6,000 volumes; by contrast, Powell's in Portland stocks 3,500 individual sections—to appeal to Luddites like me*.
Because while that Barnes & Noble may be long gone, the number of independent booksellers in the United States has actually gone up since 2009. Perhaps, by putting on an independent bookstore ambience as a disguise, Amazon is seeking to capitalize on this, which is a weird turn of events, and one more great reason to support your local (actually) independent bookstore.
*I am approximately 75 years old on the inside, which means I love old-school video stores, all print media (I really felt like I'd made it when I became a Sunday New York Times subscriber), and I've been racked with guilt every time I've ever bought a book on Amazon. RACKED. WITH. GUILT. This is perhaps a PERSONAL problem.