Amazon Books: A Second Visit with Friends

In March, my friend Robyn and I started a meet-up in Portland for book publishing professionals. There is a great mix of folks in town who work in all different nooks and niches of the industry. Some of us know each other, but we rarely have a reason to get together and talk shop. We’re hoping to solve that.

This weekend, our group took a field trip to Amazon Books at Washington Square, just outside Portland.  This store was the second store to open. They now have over 15 stores open and almost 50 pop-up locations around the country. We made the trip because many in the group hadn’t visited one of the Amazon stores yet.

I wrote about my visits to stores in 2017, so I don’t want to repeat too much of that review but let me share some of the group’s observations from the visit:

  • There was a generally agreed upon feeling that it felt like a showroom for books. All of the big books in all of the categories were represented. If you had a popular series like Game of Thrones, all the books were there in their signature face out, cover view on the shelf.
  • A more cynical way to say describe the store would be a place for people who don’t read. It was be hard to go wrong with the selection they have in the store.
  • The opposite side of that is that you didn’t feel like you were going to find new or edgy or out of the way titles that book nerds would be on the look out for.
  • The selection in the store is 100% determined by headquarters. One of the bookcase descriptions said they used customer ratings, pre-orders, sales and popularity on Goodreads. Another bookcase was a selection of books that has been read on the Kindle in three day or less.
  • Every book has a placard with the title, author name and a customer review from Amazon.  A few didn’t like them on every book. A few of us observed that with the books face out, we were much more likely just to pick up the book rather than read the signage for each book.
  • A favorite transposition from the online to the physical was the “If you like this, you might like that…”. There were a number of cases through the store stocked in that configuration.
  • Two people in the group bought books in the store.  With an Prime membership, you get the same price as the online store.  If you used a credit card stored in your Amazon account, they auto-magically looked up your Prime eligibility.
  • At the checkout, there was a upsell offer for either 30 days free of Amazon Music or two free audiobooks at Audible.
  • It appears they sell alot of Prime memberships in the store with people wanting to get the discount at checkout and then use all the other benefits that come with it.
  • The electronics section with Alexa, Kindle and Fire takes up about 20% of the store but not many people were interacting with the devices.

The store was fun to explore with like minded folks. Glad we did it.

Making Books

I had lunch yesterday with a writer in Portland who works with authors.

Davia is great. She thinks big. She tries to draw out the best from the author and what will most help the readers. It was easy to talk shop for two and a half hours over chicken kebabs. The conversation centered around three projects and each existed across the range of feasibility.

The first project was ill defined. There was no one sentence description. Neither of us could get a sense of what would fix the problem. We spent the most time talking about this one and made the least progress.

The second project was promising but it also existed in this fuzzy realm. This author could write any of several books but none of ideas reflected who they were. We later exchanged emails on a concept they all had in common. It felt like the right book, but it was the one that was going to take craft and care to write.

The third was already done. The topic was timely. Demand would only grow over time. The author had credibility. The only question was how fast could it be written.

Books are a strange amalgam of author, idea and zeitgeist. Three months from now all of these books could be in different places, better or worse. It makes the work infinitely interesting and equally frustrating at times.