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>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Darwin, Charles. <i>On the Origin of Species.</i> Presentation Copy. Sold for $500,075.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Darwin, Charles. Autograph Letter Signed, 3 pp, negotiating the 2nd American edition with Appleton. Sold for $21,325.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Hemingway, Ernest. Autograph Letter Signed, 8 pp, Paris, 1924, to his father discussing Bullfighting, Stories, and his new baby. Sold for $25,075.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Shakespeare, William. <i>Corialanus.</i> London, 1623. 1st printing [Extracted from the First Folio]. Sold for $50,075.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Swift, Jonathan. <i>Gulliver's Travels.</i> London, 1726. 1st edition, Teerink's A edition, fine, large copy. Sold for $21,325.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Fitzroy, Robert. Autograph Letter Signed to agent Thomas Stilwell, informing him of the progress of H.M.S. Beagle. Sold for $17,575.
    <center><b>Bonhams<br> Property from the Collection of Nicole and William R. Keck II</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Shakespeare, William. <i>Sonnets.</i> 1901. 2 volumes. Printed on vellum and illuminated by Ross Turner, bound by Trautz-Bauzonnet. Sold for $13,825.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Beardsley, Aubrey. <i>The Birth, Life, and Acts of King Arthur.</i> 1893-94. 2 volumes. Contemporary painted vellum gilt by Chivers. Sold for $5,325.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Assisi, St. Francis. <i>The Canticle of Brother Sun.</i> Illuminated on vellum, for the Grolier Society. Sold for $7,575.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Rackham, Arthur. <i>Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens.</i> 1/500 copies signed by Rackham. Sold for $4,825.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Proust, Marcel. <i>Du coté de chez Swann.</i> 1st edition, 1st issue. Inscribed by Proust. Sold for $8,825.
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 7:</b> Sergio Trujillo Magnenat, <i>Bogotá 1938 / IV Centenario / Juegos Deportivos Bolivarianos,</i> 1938. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 7:</b> <i>McQueen Drives Porsche,</i> designer unknown, 1970. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 7:</b><br>Joe Bridge, <i>Bignan / A Des Ailes,</i> 1921. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 7:</b> Graham Simmons, <i>The Army Isn’t All Work,</i> 1919. $1,000 to $1,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 7:</b> Leonetto Cappiello, <i>Je ne fume que le nil,</i> 1912. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 7:</b> <i>Attack of the 50 ft. Woman,</i> designer unknown, 1958. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 7:</b> Raymond Tooby, <i>Festival Guiness / Have You Tried One Yet?,</i> 1952. $600 to $900.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 7:</b> Francisco Tamagno, <i>Terrot & Co. / Dijon / Cycles Motorettes,</i> 1909. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 7:</b><br>A. Hori, Oakland / General Motors, circa 1925. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 7:</b> James Montgomery Flagg, <i>Travel? Adventure? Answer – Join the Marines!,</i> circa 1918. $4,000 to $6,000.
  • <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Roberts, David. Twenty Lithographs of the Holy Land, 19th Century. $2,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Declaration by the Reps. of the United Colonies of N.A. 1775. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Composer Jerome Kern personal Letters, Albums and Other. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Paine, Thomas. <i>Common Sense,</i> London 1776. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Stowe, Harriet Beecher. <i>Uncle Tom’s Cabin,</i> Cleveland 1852. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Hobbes, Thomas. <i>Leviathan,</i> 3rd edition, London 1651. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Anno Regni Georgii III. Intolerable Acts and other Bills, 1774. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Wilberforce, William. An Abstract of the Evidence, 5 Letters, and two books. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Nightingale, Florence. Notes on Nursing and Signed Letters, ca. 1860 $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Tolstov, Leo. <i>War and Peace,</i> 5 volumes, 1886. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Dickinson, John. Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, 1768. $1,500 to $2,500.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Twain, Mark. <i>Tom Sawyer,</i> 1877 [and] <i>Huckleberry Finn,</i> 1885. $4,000 to $6,000.

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