Rare Book Monthly

Articles - October - 2016 Issue

Amazon to Open Fourth Bookstore in Chicago. But Why?

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Amazon's Seattle store (from Amazon's website).

Amazon has announced plans to open a fourth real, live, bricks-and-mortar bookstore. This next one will be in Chicago. It joins the first, and only store open at the moment, in their hometown of Seattle. Additional stores in San Diego and Portland, Oregon, were previously announced, although they have yet to open. This is Amazon's first foray away from the Pacific coast, with speculation that the next store could take them the other half of the way across the country to New York.

 

Amazon is far and away the largest online retailer, selling everything under the sun, but they started as a bookseller. If they expanded far beyond their roots over the past two decades, there was one place where they remained true to form. They only sold online. Now, that too has changed. Last fall, they opened their first store in Seattle. While they now sell virtually everything online, in their one bricks-and-mortar store, they sell only books and related items. That will continue with their new locations. They sell physical books, electronic books (you can upload them to your electronic device at the store), and electronic readers (their Kindle). There will be "thousands of books" (physical ones) available in their stores, but "millions" more can be ordered online while visiting the store. Even books in stock at the store can be ordered for shipping to the customer's home.

 

One difference between an Amazon bookstore and a typical one is the manner of display. All of their books are faced forward, not just a few bestsellers with the rest shelved, needing to be pulled out by the spine to see the cover. It greatly reduces the number of books that can be displayed, but it enables "each [to] communicate its own essence." Reviews for each book are also provided, and those stocked are selected based on online orders, customer ratings, curators' assessments, and popularity on Goodreads. Amazon has the advantage of knowing in advance from their online sales which titles are likely to sell best, and can even target inventory based on what is popular in a particular community.

 

What Amazon has not done is try to emulate the all-encompassing atmosphere of the bigger book stores like Barnes & Noble. They don't sell coffee and pastries or provide large areas to relax and read a book all afternoon.

 

All of this leads to the burning question – why? Why is a company that destroyed so many local retailers going into local retail itself? Was it all a ruse to become the next Walmart? Hardly. It is an additional means of selling, not a replacement. Nonetheless, what they are doing is of interest to sellers of old books as well as new, since Amazon's selling model is what turned business upside down for the rare book dealer as well. So many have closed their bricks-and-mortar shops and turned strictly to electronic and other remote methods of selling. Does Amazon know something the rest of us don't?

 

Probably not. Much of what they are doing is experimental, rather than implementation of some grand master plan. And some is meant to leverage the large online business others do not have. At Amazon's annual meeting last May, CEO Jeff Bezos was quoted as saying, "We’re definitely going to open additional stores, how many we don’t know yet. In these early days it’s all about learning, rather than trying to earn a lot of revenue." Amazon has plenty of money and has never had a problem plowing it back in the business to test new ideas and support growth, short term profits be damned.

 

Perhaps part of Amazon's motivation is to tap a huge market not yet accessible to them. For all the problems we hear about traditional retail, long established name like Sears and K-Mart fading, others already gone, here is a number that may surprise you. According to a report released by the Census Bureau of the Department of Commerce last month, for all its growth, e-commerce represented only 8.1% of retail sales during the last quarter. Amazon has no access to the other 92%. E-commerce has been growing at about 15% per year, compared to around 2% for all sales, but that still implies that it will remain a relatively small percentage of overall sales for a long time to come. Maybe Amazon would like to participate.

 

Of course, Amazon has some other motivations for opening retail stores. It gives them an opportunity to sign up more members for its Prime service, and they can promote their online business through personal contact not otherwise available to them. Personal interaction can make a difference. While the financial demands of a storefront may simply not work any longer for many old and collectible book sellers, that does not mean personal contact is no longer important for establishing long-term relationships. What it means is that rare book sellers need to find alternative ways of meeting people, such as book fairs, appraisals, talks, seminars, and the like where they can make personal contact, even if it is not practical to follow Amazon back into bricks-and-mortar retail.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Franklin H. Brown, <i>State Sovereignty, National Union,</i> Chicago, 1860. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Thomas Paine, <i>The American Crisis,</i> Fishkill, NY, December 1776. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b><br>The Aitken Bible, Philadelphia, 1781. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Francisco Loubayssin de Lamarca, probable first edition of the first novel set in the Spanish New World, Paris, 1617. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Juan de la Anunciación, <i>Sermonario en lengua mexicana,</i> first edition, first book of sermons in Nahuatl, Mexico, 1577. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Maturino Gilberti, <i>Thesoro spiritual en lengua de Mechuacá,</i> first edition, Mexico, 1558. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Commission of William O. Stoddard as secretary to the president, signed by Lincoln, Washington, 1861. $7,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> <i>Clay and Frelinghuysen,</i> flag banner, circa 1844. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Daguerreotype of a man believed to be Frederick Granger Williams Smith, son of Joseph Smith, circa late 1850s. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> John C. Wolfe, <i>Portrait of Abraham Lincoln,</i> oil on board in period wooden frame, circa 1860s. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Francis W. Winton, manuscript on pow-wows with indigenous Canadians, 1881. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Family letters from two young daguerreotype artists, 1826-79. $10,000 to $15,000.
  • <b>Leland Little: Important Fall Auction. September 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Published Half Plate Ambrotype of a North Carolina Confederate Officer. $2,000 to $4,000
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Two 19th Century Books Pertaining to Canada's Red River Settlement. $400 to $800
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Two Books With Fore-Edge Paintings of British Architectual Landmarks. $400 to $600
    <b>Leland Little: Important Fall Auction. September 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987), "Torte a la Dobosch" from <i>Wild Raspberries</i>. $1,000 to $3,000
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Keith Haring (American, 1958-1990), <i>Pop Shop II,</i> One Plate screenprint in colors, on wove paper, 1998. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Thomas Rowlandson (British, 1756-1827), Twenty-Two Prints from the <i>Tours of Dr. Syntax</i>. $500 to $1,000
  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>
  • <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Shackleton, Ernest. <i>Aurora Australis.</i> Printed at the sign of 'The Penguins'; East Antarctica, 1908. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Shackleton, Ernest. <i>South Polar Times.</i> 1st edition, limited issue. from the library of Michael Barne. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> General Washington's <i>Proceedings of a General Court Martial... of Major General Lee.</i> Philiadelphia, 1778. 100 copies printed for Congress. BOUND WITH: ...Court Martial... of St Clair and ...Schuyler. $25,000 to $35,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>The Voice of the People.</i> Boston, 1754. Rare pamphlet on the Excise Tax. Nathaniel Sparhawk's copy. $4,000 to $6,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Autograph Letter Signed ("S.L. Clemens"), offering extensive hard-earned advice on writing, 5 pp, 1881. $30,000 to $50,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> After Fra Egnazio Danti. <i>L'Ultime Parti not:e nel Indie Occid:ntli" [The last known parts of the Western Indies].</i> Painted Map of California, Western Mexico, and Japan. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Ptolemaeus, Claudius. <i>Geographie opus nouissima...</i> 1513. The most important edition of Ptolemy, containing the Admiral's Map. $250,000 to $350,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> De Arellano, Don Alonso. Manuscript, his <i>"Relación mui singular y circunstanciada... Capitán del Patax San Lucas,"</i> manuscript copy from the Sir Thomas Phillips collection. $50,000 to $80,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Purchas, Samuel. <i>Purchas his Pilgrimes.</i> First edition. With John Simth's engraved map of Virginia. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Lewis, Meriwether. Contemporary manuscript true copy of his final power of attorney, 1809. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>A New Method of Macarony Making, as Practiced at Boston in North America.</i> Mezzotint. London, 1774. $5,000 to $7,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>Scientific Base Ball Pitching: A Treatise on the Pitcher, Pitching, Origin and Philosophy of the Curve.</i> Chicago, 1897. $2,000 to $3,000

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