Inside Amazon Books


Is real the new virtual? With that question in mind, I went undercover last month to review Amazon’s Seattle bookshop, the first in what’s shaping up to be a national chain, for MIT Technology Review.

It begins:

As I pull my phone from my pocket and start snapping pictures, I feel like a private eye, or even a secret agent. I’ve just walked into Amazon Books, the web giant’s flagship bricks-and-mortar bookstore in Seattle, but my intentions have little to do with shopping. I’m on a reconnaissance mission.

Like many authors, I have a love-hate relationship with Amazon. The love is transactional. Amazon sells about a third of all printed books purchased in the country, and some two-thirds of all ebooks. The hate is a form of mistrust. The company’s size gives it immense power, and it has at times acted like a predator, trying to dictate the terms of bookselling while showing contempt for the traditions of publishing. I’m not entirely sure whether Amazon wants to be my benefactor or my undertaker.

So here I am, behind frenemy lines, taking photographs of shelving. . . .

Read on.