Did the Rise of Amazon(and its Kindle) Doom the Brick & Mortar Book Store?
These days there is a lot of talk about how, though it’s great that the Kindle is taking off and eBooks are becoming ubiquitous, it’s really a shame that the local bookseller is becoming a dying breed as a result. It is definitely a little bit sad to have so few options when you want to go out shopping. I miss the smaller stores. What brings all this to mind today is the news that Borders(NYSE:BGP) is filing Bankruptcy this week.
Now, admittedly you can’t call Borders a small retailer anymore, but that is how they started. The fact is, book stores in general just aren’t doing as well since websites, specifically Amazon(NASDAQ:AMZN), became the go-to retailer for all your reading needs. As much as many stores, Borders in particular but others as well, try to diversify their product in addition to doing everything they can think of to attract readers, it’s hard to maintain the local face of a company in spite of declining sales. Even Barnes & Noble(NYSE:BKS), pretty much the big name in books for as long as I can remember, isn’t exactly doing as well for itself as it needs to be in spite of their efforts (and successes) with the Nook.
Given my own enthusiasms, I would like to give credit to the Kindle. It’s great hardware, has an impressive platform behind it, and the selection that we have available as a result is second to none. In many ways it’s like you’ve got a book store in your pocket, assuming you prefer garments with slightly over sized pockets.
Much as I’d like to place credit there, though, the trend began before the Kindle was more than a thought and a hope. Maybe not even that. This year is the first time the eBook is competing with the paperback on equal terms from the start, and it’s definitely the first time we can expect to see any comparable numbers between Kindle book sales and the print medium as a whole. eBooks are a big deal, but they’re just now realizing their potential.
What changed the game for the Brick & Mortar crowd, the way I see things, was the convenience and the successful marketing of the Amazon.com website. It wasn’t the first place to buy books online, but it has had a great selection from the start and the best selection anywhere since fairly soon after it got moving. Add in the functionality as a used book vendor, the inclusion of other media (and non-media) options besides books in the same purchase without there being any effect on your dedicated book browsing, and the decent review system that lets you improve your chances of getting the most for your money and there are options that no book store, small or large, has been able to keep up with.
So yeah, in a very real way I think that it is Amazon’s work that we see when book stores close down left and right. But they did it by giving people what they wanted and doing a better job than the stores that closed. Sure, I’ll miss being able to walk into a Borders when they’re gone (as most of them will be soon), but given the choice I know I’d rather shop through Amazon most of the time anyway. Apparently most people feel the same way.