As an indie author with a finger on the pulse of the self-publishing world and bookseller industry in general, I was surprised when I received a text from my decades-older father a few days ago:
“Amazon is opening actual bookstores this year.”
I balked at the screen. What? Really? How did I not know about this?
And then, a few seconds later…what does this mean for indie authors?
At first, I was excited. Think about the possibilities! Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing program essentially opened the floodgates for indie authors five years ago, and they’ve been (for the most part) supportive of the self-publishing industry ever since then. Wouldn’t Amazon’s brick-and-mortar bookstores provide the ability for popular—or even niche indie authors—to finally make it onto physical shelves? Here’s what I found out.
The 411 on Amazon Brick-and-Mortar Bookstores
Research shows that Amazon’s plans are quite elusive right now, to say the least. A statement by General Growth Properties’ CEO, Sandeep Mathrani, made on February 2, 2016, mentioned that Amazon was planning to open “300 to 400 bookstores” in the near future. A day later, General Growth Properties released a statement saying that Mathrani’s words were “not intended to include Amazon’s plans.”
Regardless of that possibility’s truth or not, we know that Amazon has opened a brick-and-mortar store in Seattle, where the monolithic business’s headquarters are. Descriptions of the store include that the books are “all faced out,” to increase interest in ones that might’ve otherwise been overlooked if they were lined up by their spines, as in most other stores. This display style might increase interest in a book, which is great, but it means that space in Amazon’s bookstore is very limited. The Seattle location is already small, at a reported meager 5,500 square feet, according to this LA Times article and NPR).
Amazon has stated that the books chosen for their store are the “most popular” on the site, and many times are selected using Amazon’s advanced and enormous data sets regarding what readers want. They even have a wall behind their cash register with the most popular Amazon.com books of the week lined up to see. Most exciting, though, is what’s mentioned in this Seattle Times article about the store:
“Amazon’s customers help select books for the store in other ways as well. The new store includes, for example, ‘Bald, Fat & Crazy: How I Beat Cancer While Pregnant with One Daughter and Adopting Another’ by Stephanie Hosford, a title that ranks 622,923 in books sold on Amazon. But those who have read it seem to love it. The book has a 5-star rating from all 56 customers who have reviewed it on the site.”
56 reviews?! A book with only 56 reviews is on Amazon’s brick-and-mortar shelves due to high ratings!
Why This Is Promising for Indie Authors
Well, hopes are that it means even an indie author could make it to those shelves if their book is selling well enough. For many authors who’ve pursued or considered pursuing traditional publishing contracts, a huge part of the overall appeal is two things:
- A chance to see their book sitting on a shelf
As indie authors continue to knock down the stigma of their products being “lesser than” without the stamp of approval from a Big Five publisher or smaller press, this next hurdle is readying to be toppled by self-publishers, thanks once again to Amazon.
But not everything is coming up roses. A lot of outrage at the possibility of Amazon’s bookstore plans has sprung up, mostly due to the danger they pose to independent bookstores. I am a huge supporter of independent bookstores, especially Changing Hands in Phoenix/Tempe.
But I will say that after contacting their young adult bookseller to see if they’d carry my (multi-award-winning) book, The Charismatics, or consider me for an in-house signing, I was directed to a consignment option. Where it cost me $50 to place three copies on their shelves. It actually cost me more to put my books on their shelf than I would make from selling them. A gracious reader and supporter helped me with the cost, and it gave me warm, gooey feelings to see my book in Changing Hands (two copies have sold!). But I will say that independent bookstores, for the most part, are still not very welcoming to self-published authors, in my experience.
Amazon Brick-and-Mortar Bookstores
Amazing supporters of indie books? Evil dictators putting Barnes & Noble and independent booksellers out of business? Only time will tell—but from this indie author and huge advocate for indie publishing, I think that any change to get my book on an actual shelf is a win. And Amazon might just do that.
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