Amazon VP Jennifer Cast: ‘We Have No Idea What’s Going to Happen’ With Amazon’s New Bookstore

Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images
Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

Never has the opening of a new bookstore been written about more than the launch of Amazon Books in the University Village shopping mall in Seattle on November 3. In spite of all the speculation about what Amazon is really up to with the store, Jennifer Cast, v-p of Amazon Books, said that the objective from the beginning has been to create a place where customers can discover and pick up great books. She downplayed the idea that the store was a prototype for other outlets that would sell a range of items that Amazon offers online. “The store is called Amazon Books,” she noted.

Cast is a self-described book lover who joined Amazon in 1996, a year after the company was founded. After being away from the company for 13 years, mostly working for nonprofits, she returned when a former boss told her he had something that would interest her. “I always knew I would return to Amazon,” she said.

Cast said the store has been in the planning stages for about a year. Once a location was chosen, the Amazon Books team began gathering information about who shops at University Village to help develop its inventory. For example, because the area has lots of families and children, Amazon Books has an extensive children’s section.

Since the store “will be limited by four walls” that can house only between 5,000 and 6,000 titles, Cast said she wanted to use the data that Amazon has on books to develop a mix of titles that would be different from traditional stores, and so the decision was made to focus on “great books.” All books carried by the store have at least a four-star rating from Amazon customers. And though Amazon uses other data in selecting titles, staff members make the buying decisions, Cast said. Amazon’s main objective in using the data is “to surface great books,” she noted—even if those books are not necessarily new titles. The result is a store that has a large share of books by authors who have won a range of writing awards, and where older books may be displayed next to a brand-new ones. Cast said the store will carry most bestsellers for a few weeks, but if a title doesn’t receive positive feedback, the store will drop it.

While most bookstores display some titles face out, all titles are displayed this way at Amazon Books, a tactic Amazon is using to improve discoverablity. The store has been laid out so as to create a “discovery mecca,” Cast said, adding, “We want people to bump into books that they hadn’t been thinking about.”

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SOURCE: Publisher’s Weekly
Jim Milliot