For the Love of Books

Amazon, the fastest growing online retailer and admittedly one of my favorite places to shop for leisure reads and textbooks, is producing an ironic effect for any book lovers. As more book publishers are drawing up contracts with Amazon to publish with them exclusively and as customers make the move to purchase books online as well as to purchase e-books, the need for mortar-and-brick bookstores diminishes by the day. Last year saw the liquidation of the second largest book-selling chain, Borders. Indeed, passing by a torn-down Borders yesterday, I realized it was a symbol of the overwhelming phenomenon across the country of bookstores closures. The irony lies in that the perceived friendly Amazon is actually draining the lifeblood of the seemingly arrogant ivy-colored Barnes & Noble, who is the last representative of all tangibly standing bookstores. I never thought much of the movie “You’ve Got Mail”, but if the fate of Meg Ryan’s small corner bookstore were a parable for thousands of quaint, privately-owned bookstores, then Tom Hanks’ “mega” bookstore is the digital mogul who swallowed the vinyl records industry for its last meal and is hungrily looking at the print-book industry.

The guarded but growing contention between Amazon and Barnes & Noble is, of course, multi-sided. Amazon has been called the Walmart of the web. According to a study conducted, 100 randomly selected items sold on Amazon.com are 15 to 25% cheaper compared to the same goods listed on their parent product website. Somehow Amazon is able to achieve this through the same mechanism with which Walmart crunches out its lowest prices, namely a huge distribution network. There is definitely merit to Amazon’s rocketing popularity. Yet all publishers would prefer to have their books sold in stores such as Barnes and Noble, because of what researchers call a “browsing” effect. As anyone could deduce, bookstores simply make magic happen when they display rows upon rows of book in a setting where readers can identify with an experience. The paper and ink smell blended with polished wood is a scent that’s hard to replace with an e-book device. Customers could come into a Barnes & Noble to sip on a caramel cappuccino and make some impulsive, nevertheless educational, purchases. The bookstores and publishers have a beneficial symbiotic relationship. Publishers don’t have to rely entirely on marketing strategies that grab users’ eyes and can stage in-store and more personal promotions.

Wisely succumbing to the digitization of books new CEO of Barnes & Noble, William Lynch Jr., has invested a huge sum in developing the Nook, the competitor e-book device to Amazon’s Kindle and Apple’s iPad. The Nook was brought to life by a newly hired group of engineers in the Silicon Valley; Barnes & Noble entices customers with apps that are offered for free exclusively in their stores. The Nook’s sales currently account for around 30% of the e-book sales, trailing behind Amazon’s Kindle. Barnes & Noble is putting up an admirable fight. I checked out the Hunger Games and the Dragon Girl trilogy on the two rivals’ online domains, and the prices were relatively similar. As it turns out, even though certain items may be cheaper on Amazon, Barnes & Noble isn’t the ivy-colored boss that it seems to be and I made my purchase at the latter.