Amazon Bookstores You've Got Mail / by marilyn salenger

The giant who ate everyone else for lunch has cleared the ground for itself as book selling continues to take on new meaning. Amazon's opening of brick and mortar bookstores is one of the most bizarre deja vu business stories of our time. It's the stuff movies are made of - and it's already been made. Rewind to 1998 when a movie called "You've Got Mail" humanized the bookstore wars of that time. Tom Hanks was the big bad large bookseller putting little old bookstore owner Meg Ryan out of business. The big guy fell in love with the little gal and they lived happily ever after with one bookstore.

Jeff Bezos and Amazon don't appear to be interested in the happiliy ever after part as much as they are in empire building. Yes, we all love Amazon, but here's a look at book business reality. The company worked hard to revolutionize or destroy (whichever word works best for you) as much of bookstore business as possible when they began selling books online. They reduced the price customers pay for books while reducing the amount of money their authors make.

With an inability to compete, thousands of small bookstores as well as large chains have gone out of business. Borders, one of the original megastore books sellers, went out of business in 2011. Barnes and Noble, it's early competition, is fighting for survival. With the opening of Amazon bookstores, the behemoth is stepping in to replace what they previously stepped upon. Even in some of the same neighborhoods. What will be missing are the almost intangible and valued feelings of intimacy, community and camaraderie that small book stores can provide. 

The battle of bookstores has become an evolutionary process with a survival of the fittest mentality. "You've Got Mail" actually portrayed the story of what used to be a beloved neighborhood bookstore called Shakespeare & Co. on the upper West Side of New York City. The small shop became enmeshed in a struggle to survive competition from the then reigning giant, Barnes and Noble. The big guy opened a very big store very close by complete with Starbucks, couches and lounge chairs. Shakespere & Co. was finally forced to close its doors after serving the community for 15 years.

In my own New York City days during the '80's and '90's, our treasured neighborhood bookstore was in the Columbus Circle area. It was called Coliseum Books and had a wonderful collection of something for everyone that helped make a busy city more like home. It was there that my young son learned to love shopping for books that became a part of his childhood library. Coliseum Books said good-bye to us in much the same way as Shakespere & Co. did to their neighbors. Barnes and Noble opened yet another big store blocks away near Lincoln Center.

Bigger is better was the overarching premise, and it worked for awhile until it didn't. Take notice Amazon. Barnes and Noble closed it's Lincoln Center location in 2011 adding to their shrinking numbers. The bookstore leader went from 798 stores in 2008 to 640 stores in 2016, losing its top business position.

Coming full circle, Amazon has opened one of its big new bookstores right in the old New York City neighborhood in between the burial grounds of Collseum Books and Barnes and Noble Lincoln Center. If everything old is new again, why did we get rid of the old to begin with?