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Amazon and the future of bookselling

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Books are one of the best things about being human — they enlighten, entertain and even, sometimes, provide a hiding place for escape.

Do you, like me, read fiction and non-fiction? I often read fiction quickly, seeking the resolution, the payoff — for me, the fiction is often a mystery. Non-fiction is something I usually take in bite-size chunks — each slice gives me something to chew on for a day or two. (The longshoreman-philosopher Eric Hoffer often worked on thoughts as a daily exercise; I’m neither a longshoreman nor a philosopher.)

The exception to the bite-size rule would be biographies — I often get lost in biographies and treat them more like mysteries to unravel. I’m reading a Truman bio at the moment.


I’ve written about bookstores off and on. Long-time readers know that I studied for various tests at a Tulsa Borders, which was — for 10 or more years — my most frequent hangout. That Borders is now a grocery store called The Fresh Market. When I go to a bookstore now, which is not nearly so often, I go to Barnes and Noble, but I still miss Borders. There are other bookstores, but the café is an important element of the experience. Many independent booksellers don’t offer food and drink.

Libraries and booksellers vs. Amazon

I used to go to the library weekly. However, my other bookstore, a.k.a., the Amazon Kindle, keeps offering books I like on special for $1.99 or so, and it’s so easy. Buying a Kindle offering does not require getting in the car, or even wearing shoes.

My Kindle is cheap and has ads when I turn it on, but the pages look pretty much like book pages and I like that feature. (I’m not big on backlighting; it seems okay for magazines and newspapers on the iPad, but less so for serious reading.)

So, should libraries be shorted — will they go out of business? When I do go these days, libraries seem to have lots of patrons, although most seem to be using the computers, which now take up a fair piece of literary real estate.

Visiting libraries (and Borders stores) are part of habit patterns, of course. Amazon hopes my new habit of ordering and reading books on Kindle will continue forever. Is Amazon likely to be the WalMart of its time? For that matter, could Amazon be a success story similar to Microsoft or Apple, at least in terms of stock appreciation? Ordering books for Kindle takes only a minute, and then the reader owns the book, even though it is not, strictly speaking, a book. It has no tactile feel, and one can’t smell the printer’s ink and paper.

See also: Are you a creature of habit?

Ordering other merchandise from Amazon becomes habitual too, and free family two-day shipping makes it easy. In terms of investing, it’s easy to miss opportunities like Amazon, Microsoft and Apple. Why? Maybe because we use the products daily and are in the moment and so engaged with the product that we don’t seem to think about millions of others doing the same thing and we miss the value. (For what’s it worth, in mid-August, Morningstar showed an average 21.66 percent return for AMZN for 10 years and an average of 19.19 percent for 15 years. And there it’s been, folks, growing like crazy, right in front of our noses.)

This all reminds me of the school of investing championed by Peter Lynch — the “kick-the-tires-and-watch-the-customer-lines” approach. Of course, we can’t watch lines of shoppers at Amazon, but we can certainly watch its results by monitoring the stock. Clearly, Amazon, with significant help from Borders’ own bad management, drove Borders out of business. Barnes and Noble is having its problems too, also due to Amazon. Although B&N’s Kindle-like reader, the Nook, is good and has Microsoft involvement.

Who will win the long-term bookseller war? Is there room for Amazon and a books-and-mortar competitor? It is possible that Amazon is the next big thing, and it’s right there, right in front of us.

Of course — in B & N’s favor — you have to wait two days (even if you have free two-day shipping) for a cup of coffee from Amazon. (Okay, not a cup, but certainly some beans.) But you can buy lots more than books at Amazon, and not having to leave home is sometimes irresistible.

For more from Richard Hoe, see:

Fear vs. logic




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