Amazon, Showrooming, and Discoverability

Feature image Creative Commons Steven Depolo

Amazon has been dominating the news lately. I did a quick search on Google News, and came up with this:

Google News search of "Amazon" on 7/22/2013And there were the expected “Amazon vs.” articles: Wal-Mart, Apple, Barnes & Noble, IBM. Still, that’s a lot of vs for a company that has grown, apparently organically, from an online bookseller to a behemoth outlet for ALL THE THINGS. But of course, that kind of growth alarms some and upsets others, so the court cases and high-profile competition isn’t out of line.

The tidbits about the .Amazon domain registry failure was a treat, for me, as was the news that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has funded the recovery of the Apollo 11 engines from the bottom of the Atlantic.

But the top link had me intrigued: Amazon vs. Your Public Library? In a battle that doesn’t seem much like a battle, why is it even a consideration for Fortune magazine to ask: “But could Amazon (AMZN), tech’s behemoth retailer, really be threatened by the neighborhood library — a centuries-old institution known for musty shelves, high school cram sessions, and ‘Shhhhhh. Quiet please?'”

The answer is: it’s hard to say.

At first glance, Amazon seems to be cooperating with libraries for the most part. Through its Affiliate links and related programs, Amazon offers a cut of their sales to libraries that include them on their web page – the article cites NYPL. When holds lists get too long, it can be an attractive option for people to jump ship and just buy the book. With Amazon’s increasing shipping speeds, that option is as good as paying to be moved to the top of the list. E-Media outlets like OverDrive offer the same idea – want a book, but your library doesn’t have a copy available? Hop over to Amazon, BN, or other partnered sites to pick it up. And again, OverDrive gets a cut.

And David Carr pointed out in the New York Times, Amazon needs physical outlets. This has been argued against, and certainly not every customer needs to browse a physical collection before making an online purchase. And unlike brick-and-mortar booksellers, the library doesn’t really suffer from “showrooming” that is, customers coming to a physical location to check out items they plan to buy online. Normally, this would cost retailers essential customer conversions – but does it operate the same way for the library?

If Amazon is bringing people through the library doors to look at a book/DVD/etc, is that such a bad thing? Is “discoverability” part of the library mission, even if it’s not reflected in circulation statistics? Certainly, discoverability IS a part of the library mission, and I would argue that while it may be harder to track, this is exactly the kind of relationship the library needs to strike up with e-retailers, and Amazon is a perfect beginning. After all, booksellers and libraries have successfully served the same population for centuries, without this talk of versus.

If Amazon can find a way to actually support community libraries (and maybe even independent booksellers!) then libraries should be alright with showrooming.

 

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