Monday, November 13, 2017

Tyler Cowen Pans an Amazon Bookstore in NYC

Here are slices of Tyler's commentary:
 Here are my impressions, derived from the Columbus Circle outlet in Manhattan:

 It is a poorly designed store for me, most of all because
it does not emphasize new releases.  I feel I am familiar with a lot of older titles, or I went through a more or less rational process of deciding not to become familiar with them.  Their current popularity, as measured say by Amazon rankings, does not cause me to reassess those judgments.  For me, aggregate Amazon popularity has no real predictive power, except perhaps I don’t want to buy books everyone liked.  “A really smart person says to consider this again,” however, would revise my prior estimates.
I have mixed feelings about the idea of all books facing outward.  On the positive side, books not facing outward tend to be ignored.  On the downside, this also limits the potential for hierarchicalization through visual display.  All books facing outwards is perhaps a bit too much like no books facing outwards.
I am most worried by the prominent center table at the entrance, which presents “Books with 4.8 Amazon stars or higher.”  I saw a book on mixology, a picture book of Los Angeles, a Marvel comics encyclopedia, a book connected to the musical Hamilton, and a series of technique-oriented cookbooks, such as Harold McGee, a very good manual by the way.  Isabel Wilkerson was the closest they had to “my kind of intelligent non-fiction.”  Neil Hilbon represented poetry, of course his best-known book does have a five-star average, fortunately “…these poems are anything but saccharine.”
Unfortunately, the final message is that Amazon will work hard so that controversial books do not receive Amazon’s highest in-store promotions.  Why not use software to measure the quality of writing or maybe even thought in a book’s reviews, and thereby assign it a new grade?: “Here are the books the smart people chose to write about”?
 I didn’t buy anything.
A few comments on Tyler's comments:

I find it curious that Tyler has "mixed feelings" about Amazon putting all books face outward. For an economist with mathematical and empirical leanings, this is just a math problem.

Do you sell more books with books facing outward or a larger selection of books with just the spines showing?

The same goes for Tyler's first concern, new releases versus older popular Amazon titles.

If anyone is running data on what sells best, my bet is that it is Amazon. They have the books positioned properly.

Tyler is also "most worried" about the books that are stars ranked 4.8 or higher that Amazon chooses to feature up front.

He would prefer that "books the smart people chose to write about” be featured.

But, once again, Tyler seems to be failing to use his skills as an economist.

The bookstore is in the damn high rent Time Warner Center- Shops at Columbus Circle.

Amazon Bookstores would be a failure aiming to please Tyler's Galbraithian tastes.

They need to reach the masses at a such a location.

Tyler should take the advice he gives in his dining out books, look for the best bookstores to be off the beaten track where the rent is lower. My favorite Bay Area bookstores are not in San Francisco but in the much lower rent Oakland area.


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