PaidContent reports that the US’s second-largest bookstore chain, Books a Million, is following in the footsteps of Barnes & Noble and proclaiming it will not stock Amazon-published titles in its brick-and-mortar stores. It’s not clear whether, like Barnes & Noble, they will sell the titles online. Books a Million sells a version of the Nook as its own e-reader.
There’s a Books a Million store in Joplin, Missouri, and I stopped by it a few months ago. I wasn’t particularly impressed. Unlike Barnes & Noble, the store does not offer free wifi for its customers—you have to pay for it. (How last-decade.)
Meanwhile, Jason Calacanis reports hearing from “a very credible” (but anonymous) source that Amazon is going to launch its own brick and mortar retail stores. While the rumor has been around before, and on the face of it seems absolutely crazy, Jeff Bezos has done crazy things before and look at where he is today. And as the New York Times Bits blog points out, before 2001 the idea of Apple launching retail stores seemed far-fetched, but look at them now.
Jason throws out some ideas on what Amazon might do with the floor space—show you demonstration models then have you order the product from Amazon for shipping to your house, or perhaps provide a physical library for Amazon Prime subscribers in addition to the electronic ones. Whatever he does, it will probably have the same sort of unusual twist to it that has characterized a lot of Amazon’s new ventures.
The interesting thing to me is that, if this does happen, the big chain stores like Wal-Mart, Best Buy, and of course Barnes & Noble could find themselves hoist by their own petards. They have been campaigning to strip away Amazon’s tax-free advantage. Having physical property—their retail stores—in those states in addition to their on-line presence means chains like Best Buy or Barnes & Noble have to collect sales tax on physical items sold on-line. Amazon hasn’t had to do that until now except in states where it has distribution centers.
But if they succeed in making Amazon pay sales tax everywhere, suddenly the only reason for Amazon not to put physical stores everywhere vanishes—and so does the one big advantage that the brick and mortars have: instant gratification. I bought a Logitech K360 wireless keyboard at Best Buy today for $30, though I could have gotten it for $25 from Amazon. (Well, $24.99, so I would have had to add another item to qualify for free shipping.) But if I bought it from Amazon, I couldn’t use it right now.
If Amazon stocks even just its more popular items in physical inventory, and offers bennies to Prime subscribers and other Amazon regulars, it could start to draw more and more people away from those other stores for immediate purchases as well as the ones that can wait. And as a fringe benefit, it would provide a place for online-ordering customers to direct their packages to be sent to so they could pick them up instead of having to be home for delivery—as Wal-Mart and Best Buy already do. We already know Amazon has had package pickup on its mind, what with the locker kiosks it has been placing in convenience stores in various locations.
Oh, and it would also provide a place where people could go to buy those Amazon-published paper books in person—the ones that Barnes & Noble and Books a Million are declining to carry.
Of course, there’s still nothing to suggest that this is anything more than another unfounded anonymous rumor. But if it does come to pass, wow. Amazon could shake the brick and mortar landscape as thoroughly as it has shaken the e-commerce one.
(Found via GalleyCat.)