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Amazon Books – Another Turn in the Spiral?

by on February 27, 2017

I cannot be the only person unsurprised that book-selling giant Amazon has gone bricks and mortar with Amazon Books. If you have not heard, they currently have bookstores in Seattle, San Francisco, and Portland, with plans for more stores near Chicago and Boston. With Amazon also initiating a cashier-free grocery store, many have been speculating both why and what next.

But it is the bookstores that truly intrigue me. Many librarians knew that the proclamations of the death of the book were premature. We now have statistics to support that e-book sales are trending down while print book sales are trending up.

Speculation for why Amazon is opening actual stores ranges from the recognition that people like physical books to the stores being fronts for other, more technological services. I would think it is likely that both are playing a role, as well as Amazon’s ability to take advantage of consumers’ desire to instantly possess an item.

What is most interesting is what this means for libraries. If even Amazon has gone physical, then—for the moment—libraries have a solid, tangible place to argue the notion that everything is and forever will be electronic. But skeptics can still point to disappearing independent booksellers and other struggling large chains to support of the bookstore-as-front-for-technology theory.

Still, if Amazon Books is, in large part, a way to attract people to support their devices, streaming media, and cloud technology, libraries can still point to this retail giant as justification for our existence. After all, libraries also now provide a wide array of devices and technology access.

Maybe the true point here is that there is a time and a place for everything. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. There is a place for the e-reader and a place for printed book, a place for online retail and brick-and-mortar stores. Libraries have always been and will remain places that are more than mere repositories for printed materials. What is old becomes new, what is new becomes old, and the world spirals.

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