Rare Book Monthly

Articles - March - 2017 Issue

Amazon Bookstores to Spread Coast to Coast – Is This Good or Bad for Booksellers?

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An Amazon store (from Amazon website).

Amazon has announced the planned opening of four more traditional, bricks-and-mortar bookstores for later this year. They join three already open on the west coast, Seattle, Portland, and San Diego, and one previously announced, but not yet open, Chicago. Now, Amazon bookstores will be found coast to coast. Amazon has announced that they will take Manhattan, and three other locations, one across the river in Paramus, New Jersey, and two in the suburbs of Boston – Dedham and Lynnfield. How many they will eventually open is unknown, maybe even to Amazon, and certainly to everyone else. Some speculate hundreds, some thousands. Meanwhile, the motivation behind this move into traditional retailing, which elicited a "what-the..." response when first announced in 2015, is becoming clearer.

 

The bookstores will only generate peanuts in terms of sales for the mammoth online retailer. Still, there are some evident ulterior motives. The stores now offer Amazon electronic devices, such as its Kindle e-reader, tablet computer, and probably most important of all, Echo, its hands-free personal assistant. And maybe even more important, it enables Amazon to personally sell subscriptions to its Prime service, which, for an annual fee, lets you purchase everything from Amazon at a discount. If they can get you to pay for Prime, they know you will buy lots more from them over the course of a year.

 

Of course, Amazon began its existence as a bookseller. Once they became the largest online bookseller, they morphed into something much bigger, the largest online retailer of just about everything else under the sun. They didn't make much if any money, but they grew like Topsy. Books, in a sense, were a loss leader. Perhaps that is what they will be again. The bookstores will undoubtedly help drive traffic to the website, as well as making sales on the spot. And one more thing – as big as online shopping has become, and as huge as Amazon's market share of online shopping is, the reality is that more than 90% of merchandise is still sold through traditional retail. Their share of this 90% is 0%.

 

Amazon recently opened a test site for grocery shopping in its home town of Seattle. The catch to their concept is that products will automatically be scanned as you put them in your shopping cart, enabling shoppers to avoid check out lines. Amazon evidently has an eye on that other 90%.

 

What is the impact of all of this on booksellers? Those most in fear are the shops that sell new books, as this is where Amazon directly competes. Those in the rare and antiquarian trade don't seem so obviously affected, though Amazon's online model turned even the rare book trade upside down in the 1990's, so who knows where this leads?

 

However, some independent booksellers are starting to warm to the idea, and they have more to fear than rare book sellers. Amazon only carries a limited number of books on site. Their books are displayed face out, significantly reducing the number on display. Amazon uses online buying habits to pick the most popular titles to sell at each location. They offer the cream of the crop, but the independents can offer more variety and specialization. They also can give the browser a better experience thumbing through titles to find books of interest they never knew about before. The Barnes & Nobles of the world long ago took away much of their best-seller trade, so Amazon is likely to be more of a threat to these large retailers than to independents.

 

All of this brings us to one more factor which may make rare and antiquarian book sellers feel better about these Amazon stores. Many have believed their stock in trade, the printed book, is on life support, their demise being tolled by the beeps of electronic readers. Young people have less connection to the physical book than earlier generations, simply because there are alternatives available. Some may rarely touch a physical book. They can read books by downloading them onto an electronic device without ever knowing the sensation of a physical book.

 

In an Amazon store, even if they buy an e-book, they will not be able to avoid the presence of printed ones. They may be tempted to touch one, open it, experience what their forebearers did. You cannot experience invisible electrons dancing on a chip. Tomorrow's collectors almost inevitably will come from today's readers of physical books. Amazon stores may be where the young first come to experience printed books. Everyone is always asking from where the next generation of book collectors will come. Maybe Amazon stores will be one of the answers.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Jean de Mandeville, <i>Reysen und Wanderschafften durch das Gelobte Land,</i> Strassburg, 1488. Sold for $106,250.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> José González Cabrera Bueno, <i>Navegación Especulativa, y Práctica,</i> Manila, 1734. Sold for $55,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Francis W. Winton, manuscript on pow-wows with indigenous Canadians, 1881. Sold for $65,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Louise Bourgeois, <i>He Disappeared Into Complete Silence,</i> portfolio with complete text & 9 engravings, 1947. Sold for $413,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Erich Maria Remarque, <i>All Quiet on the Western Front,</i> first American edition, Boston, 1929. Sold for $9,375.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Sir William Russell Flint, gouache & watercolor illustration for Homer's <i>Odyssey,</i> 1924. Sold for $22,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Kurt Vonnegut, archive of 12 letters, signed to his family, 6 illustrated, 1930s-40s. Sold for $12,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Oscar Wilde, <i>Lady Windermere's Fan,</i> first edition, presentation copy, signed & inscribed, London, 1893. Sold for $27,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Emil Cardinaux, <i>St. Moritz,</i> 1918. Sold for $17,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> R.J. Waters, 3 panoramas of the San Francisco earthquake & fire, 1906. Sold for $21,250.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Album with 200 cartes-de-visite, including images by Felice Beato, John Thompson & F.W. Sutton, Japan & China, 1863-69. Sold for $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Thomas Paine, <i>The American Crisis,</i> Fishkill, NY, December 1776. Sold for $40,000.
  • <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 New York: Fine Books and Manuscripts Including the World of Hilary Knight. December 5, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Dec 5:</b> KNIGHT, HILARY. The Original Portrait of Eloise that Hung at the Plaza Hotel. $100,000 to 150,000
    <b>Bonhams, Dec 5:</b> WARHOL, ANDY. "Iced Lemon Delight," an Original Watercolor Presented to Hilary Knight's cat, Phoebe $8,000 to 12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Dec 5:</b> SENDAK, MAURICE. <i>Where the Wild Things Are.</i> PRESENTATION COPY, INSCRIBED with drawing to Hilary Knight in the month following publication. $10,000 to 15,000
    <b>Bonhams New York: Fine Books and Manuscripts Including the World of Hilary Knight. December 5, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Dec 5:</b> NOLAND, KENNETH. Original circle painting, untitled, acrylic and ink on cloth, for cover of monograph $8,000 to 12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Dec 5:</b> TOULOUSE-LAUTREC. <i>Histoires Naturelles,</i> 1899. With 22 original lithographs. $10,000 to 15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Dec 5:</b> SHAKESPEARE, WILLIAM. <i>A Collection of Poems,</i> [1711]. The first authoritative and complete collected Sonnets.$15,000 to 20,000
    <b>Bonhams New York: Fine Books and Manuscripts Including the World of Hilary Knight. December 5, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Dec 5:</b> LONDON, JACK. <i>The Call of the Wild.</i> 1903. First edition, first state jacket. $2,000 to 3,000
    <b>Bonhams, Dec 5:</b> FROST, ROBERT. Autograph Manuscript of "Build Soil," 12 pp, 1932-1936. $15,000 to 20,000
    <b>Bonhams, Dec 5:</b> GOULD, GLENN. Glenn Gould's extensively annotated copy of Bach's Goldberg Variations $100,000 to 150,000
    <b>Bonhams New York: Fine Books and Manuscripts Including the World of Hilary Knight. December 5, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Dec 5:</b> PLATH, SYLVIA. EARLY Autograph Letter Signed, about her beginnings as a writer, Northampton, MA, 1951. $7,000 to 10,000
    <b>Bonhams, Dec 5:</b> HOUDINI, HARRY. A collection of 11 cast iron shackle and lock items from Houdini's personal collection. $20,000 to 30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Dec 5:</b> M4 ENGIMA MACHINE, with very rare RARE HYDRA KEY ENVELOPE. $400,000 to 600,000

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