Back To The Days Of Brick & Mortar?

For the past few years something has plagued Amazon … that something would be sales tax and the battle surrounding it.

If you’ve ever shopped with the online retail giant, you know, part of the glory and the low price structure of the site at large is the absence of sales tax.  This goes for nearly everything in stock.  The reason Amazon could pull off such a thing when other stores can’t is simple … the entire practice of no-taxes hinges on the little law that states without a physical presence in a state, the retailer is under no obligation to charge sales tax. Hooray!

This has perhaps been part of Amazon’s appeal … especially when it comes to big ticket items like the 50 inch LCD television right down to the $200 Kindle Fire.  Couple that with the Prime free shipping … customers on the site really do pay retail and not penny above.  May shoppers, myself included, will scope out items at physical stores only to return home and order them online … Chicago has a crippling 10% tax structure in place … as you can imagine, this has saved me many a dollar over the years.

But, in the past few days this tax-free model has changed and changed drastically.  Amazon has inked a deal with California (the biggest bitcher about the tax-free stance of Amazon) as well as a handful of other states.  By fall of 2012 expect to spend a bit more on your purchases via Amazon.com if you live in one of the taxable states. So what does this potentially mean for Amazon and the consumer?

It means that Amazon may very well be taking itself offline exclusively and branching out into the trade of brick and mortar store fronts.  With no more incentives to remain captive behind your computer screen, the online retail giant may just end up taking it to the streets.

No, you won’t be able to find that obscure sock for your golf club in store if this ends up coming to fruition … Amazon is said to be exploring the idea of selling their wildly popular Kindle family as well as exclusive books in brick and mortar store fronts, and the plan is to start with their home base, Seattle.  So … yeah … in a way Amazon is going back to their roots while simultaneously exploring uncharted territory.

Lets go back to the beginning, shall we?

Amazon originally was a book store  (back in the dark ages it seems now) … and all started in the garage of Jeff Bazo’s home where he attacked the internet by offering below-retail books online.  And then, it grew.  It quickly became the Amazon we know today, offering the consumer vitamins to vacations and nearly everything in between.  But Amazon has always been, and will always be, a book retailer first and foremost, it was their bread and butter and remains steadfast in their role (don’t believe me?  Visit the site, tell me what shows up on the welcome screen) … so it seems almost natural that if they were going to break a proven, successful business model … it would be for the love of books.

The peanut gallery seems divided on this venture of Amazon’s.  Some outspoken individuals are questioning the sanity of Bezos as his plans come to light … wondering aloud why, in the dawn of brick and mortars going under at a neck-breaking pace, Bezos would gamble with a venture that seems and feels slightly ancient.  Others are just excited … and by others, I mean the independent authors who stand to have some shelf space in a store that, by all intents, could be as big (if not bigger) than Barnes & Noble where shelf space if typically reserved for the trade published.

But, why … that seems to be the million-dollar question on everyone’s lips.  Why would Amazon tinker with their success when book stores are going the way of dinosaur?  For me, the answer can be found in the behind-the-scenes antics of it all.

Last week, Barnes & Noble broke the news that they were drawing a line in sand — any book that was exclusively sold through Amazon (aka Select) wouldn’t be welcome in their stores.  And on the heels of that, Books-A-Million made a strikingly similar announcement.  Now, it’s pretty common knowledge that B&N isn’t the most Indie-friendly ground and for what it’s worth, it was exceptionally rare for an Indie to secure space in their store anyway.  In my opinion, it was no great loss for us but a tremendous loss for them.  They essentially were telling the customers, we don’t care what you want to read … we only care about having the upper hand.  This announcement was cloaked under the “fair trade” moniker … we saw the same thing with DC Comics this past Holiday season.  But, B&N is doing little more than whittling away at their own nose, since they hardly practice what they preach signing an exclusive with REAL SIMPLE and announcing it proudly mere hours after chastising Amazon for doing practically the same thing.

Whatever.

My suspicions is this: While there is a revolution in play for us writers … there is an all out war for the bookstores, one that could use the muscle and aptitude of a business like Amazon.

Amazon has always been keen on fleshing out fresh talent and growing itself as a business to include imprint publishing and a self-publishing imprint.  They are forward thinkers, always evolving to meet the needs of consumers as the consumers needs grows and changes.  And while the day of the book store may be slipping away, the era of Amazon is on the cusp of breaking free.

Amazon is creating rules as easily as they are breaking them.  They don’t look at PUBLISHING as an old-boys club where the “do-no-wrong” mantra is chanted throughout the empty halls … they look at it honestly and see the flaws … and then, they work tirelessly to correct them.  Now, they’ll do the same with BOOK STORES.  I can see them spinning B&N like a top … recreating the consumers idea of a “book store” by putting their own twist on things.  And for that, I’m excited!

 

 

 

 

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One thought on “Back To The Days Of Brick & Mortar?

  1. I don’t know about the nuts, bolts, and politics at play here, but I know I’m all for physical book stores stacked with paper-and-ink books. So if Amazon’s looking to keep such places alive and thriving, I can’t help but be inclined to look upon that with a favorable eye.

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