OPENING DAY AT AMAZON BOOKS: EXCITED CROWDS, BAR CODES AND ‘PANACHE’

By Gus Saltonstall

Amazon Books opened Thursday on the third floor of the Time Warner Center Building in Columbus Circle — the seventh store of its kind in the United States and the first in New York.

There was a festive atmosphere at the opening, with people lining the walls outside the store waiting to get in and multiple television crews on site.

“The name Amazon draws people in,” said Richard Rensin, a retiree now living in Aruba, as he surveyed the scene, adding that the bookstore had a certain “panache.”

It is definitely not your father’s bookstore. The store holds some 3,000 titles and each book has its own space on the shelves with its cover facing out. Underneath each book is a review card with an Amazon.com customer rating and review. The overall experience is distinctly high-tech – and clearly designed to draw consumers into the Amazon Prime universe.

For instance, there is a barcode adjacent to the review card on every book so that customers with an Amazon Prime membership can use their smart phones to see the price of the book and receive a discount. The store only features books with a four stars or better rating on Amazon.com or Amazon.com bestsellers.

When asked why she decided to shop at Amazon Books, Atlanta resident Margaret Townsend replied, “I wanted to see how they would connect buying books to the IPhone experience.”

The layout of the store is much smaller than a long, winding Barnes & Nobles, but also larger than what one would usually associate with a cozy independent bookstore.

The books are mostly organized into typical sections — non-fiction, picture books, fiction classics, and so on. But Amazon Books has tried to add its own digital twist with sections like “Fiction Top Sellers in New York,” “About New York or by New Yorkers”, “Page Turners”, and “If You Like,” the latter being well-known bestsellers displayed alongside lesser-known titles that would appeal to the same reader.

There is also a section of the store that is just for Amazon’s electronic products. Customers can test out items such as the Kindle, Amazon Echo, Fire Television and Fire Tablet Lines.

Of course, the question remains whether or not New Yorkers will continue to flock to Amazon Books. But if the opening day is any indication, they are off to a high-speed start.

Photos by Gus Saltonstall.

NEWS, OPEN/CLOSED | 30 comments | permalink
    1. Diego says:

      you’ve got to be kidding me…

    2. I’ll take Book Culture please.

      P.S. Time Warner Center is a Mall. Not UWS culture.

      • Sean says:

        UWS culture is a fiction. It no longer exists. Nora Ephron is gone.

      • Mark says:

        Count me as another for Book Culture!

        So at Amazon you need to scan a bar code to see the price of a book. Good thing they improved on the super-duper complicated process of looking at a price tag.

      • Paul RL says:

        Carol, can you please define what you believe to be current (not the ghosts of the past) “Upper West Side culture”? And why a mall doesn’t cut it?

        • Bruce Bernstein says:

          3,000 titles is a small selection, compared to most serious book stores.

          I currently go to Book Culture on 112th instead of buying Amazon online… and i will continue to do so. i don’t like the way Amazon treats authors.

          • B.B. says:

            Yes, many other bookstores do have a much larger selection. However much of it is pawed over, shrink wrap removed or whatever as so called “customers” treat bookstores like an after school center, library, and so forth.

            Am going to guess that out of the tens of thousands of titles say in a B&N store only small number of books actually move at full price. The rest are ether disposed of on sale, or shipped elsewhere with a write off taken.

    3. RF says:

      If this store only offers 3,000 titles (compared to the 1.8 MILLION on Amazon.com) I’m guessing it’s mostly limited to bestsellers; those are the types of books I generally purchase based on word-of-mouth or magazine/newspaper reviews anyway, so I don’t really need to spend time browsing in an actual store. If buying a gift (usually a children’s book) where I want to see the text/illustrations in person, I purchase it from Book Culture or West Side Kids.

      But if I’m going to buy something from Amazon anyway, I’d rather purchase it from the comfort of my home, where I can read reviews on my computer rather than a tiny smartphone screen in the middle of a crowded store. Isn’t the convenience of an online purchase the entire point of Amazon? Not sure I see what purpose this store serves, other than as marketing for Amazon’s online presence.

    4. Bill says:

      What a waste of time. Books are list price if you are not PRIME. Ridiculous. Head to Book Culture or B & N. No reason to go to TWC and join the hoarders of tourists looking to buy an I love NY Mug.

      • ScooterStan says:

        Re: “….join the hoarders of tourists looking to buy an I love NY Mug”

        Ummm…that’s HORDES of tourists, not HOARDERS of tourists.

        Cannot “Imagine” (apologies 2 John Lennon) why anyone would want to be a HOARDER of tourists, considering that:

        1. there seems to be a never-ending supply of them;

        2. you’d go broke trying to keep them fed. Many, mainly from the fly-over states, look like they eat six meals a day;

        3. You’d go nuts trying to explain to the foreign tourists how this country could possibly have elected you-know-who;

        4. you’d also go nuts trying to please the fly-over-state tourists by taking them to their favorite places…mainly suburban shopping malls and sports arenas;

        5. you’d also have a hard time keeping the male fly-over tourists from the females, especially when they’re in heat, as the last thing we need is for them to have litters.

        Heh-heh…just kidding ….NOT !!

      • Geno says:

        Don’t you mean hoards of tourists? Hoarders of tourists would be people that collect tourists in large numbers.

    5. Zeus says:

      Welcome to the ‘hood.
      Glad to know folks are still reading real books.
      Seems to me in a few decades time, this too shall disappear.

    6. Westside_Mimi says:

      Awesome – It’s great that books are accessible! The more options the better!

    7. ScooterStan says:

      Uh-oh! The UWS “kiss-of-death”!

      Three out three comments above heartily disapprove of the Amazon Bookstore. Amazon might as well pack up its books and high-tail it out of Dodge before noon.

      But wait ! What IS that insane laugh?

      Oh, it’s just Amazon’s CEO, Bezos-the-Evil, in hysterics at the sanctimonious advocates of Book Culture, as he knows:

      1) UWS’ers consider the architecturally-gorgeous T-W Center an abomination and urge their children to cover their eyes as they pass by in their Uber/Lyft/Via vehicles, so they will never set foot in “that building”…even to visit the subterranean Whole Foods (“we buy all our organic groceries from authentic itinerant peddlers”)

      2. But tourists (gasp!!) who swarm Columbus Circle WILL visit T-W Center, as did the ‘lady-from-Atlanta’ and the ‘retiree-from-Aruba’ cited in the story. And places like Book Culture are way-y-y-y below tourist radar.

      • Mark says:

        The new Amazon bookstore is probably perfect for you.
        I wish you many happy experiences there.

      • Bruce Bernstein says:

        good for Bezos. he’ll make money. though Amazon is not known for showing a profit — even after 20 years.

        he’s got every right to have his antiseptic book store in a soulless building. hell, put one in Trump tower.

        meanwhile, i’ll keep my doing my modest spending at Book Culture, and just being glad it’s there.

        So Bezos can laugh all he wants.

    8. jean mensing says:

      any place to sit down?????

    9. Drew says:

      I wish them what they wish for the entire retail landscape throughout the country they have helped shut down.

    10. Shirley says:

      Amazon is starving authors and publishers. Now it is trying to push established book sellers off the cliff. When is enough enough?

    11. Nathan says:

      Why all the hate? Welcome to the neighborhood, Amazon.

    12. Sherman says:

      Hopefully Amazon stock will hit $1,000 soon.

      Keeps getting very close but then dips.

      That said, I’m not sure how they expect to make money from these stores but I’m sure Jeff Bezos knows what he’s doing.

      • Bruce Bernstein says:

        such faith in billionaires…

        Amazon is FINALLY making a profit over the last 8 quarters. but it’s doing it from cloud computing services, not from online retail.

    13. Christine E says:

      Anything that keeps print books exciting is ok by me.

    14. Dee says:

      Doesn’t Amazon have enough money? Is it really necessary for them to open a brick & mortar? WHY?

    15. ericuws says:

      I think it is against NYC or NYS law not to have prices listed. Where is Consumer Affairs?

    16. Bob says:

      The best. Better than Book Culture, and cheaper. What’s not to like!?!?

      • Sarah says:

        It’s list unless you’re a Prime member. So, no, NOT cheaper.

        This place is basically an airport book store for Central Park. Most people shopping here will never have heard of Book Culture (and are barely literate anyway). So, while the faux “local” touches are nauseating, hopefully they won’t take too many of BC’s sales.

    17. Nate says:

      Went today. Bought four books. Will be returning.

    18. Jon says:

      Reading this thread, I’d think Book Culture is filled these days with loyal shoppers. But it doesn’t look that way when I pass by.