July 13, 2016
“You fool! This isn’t even my final form!”
by Hannah Koerner
Listen, you can say a lot of things about Amazon and its professional Mr. Burns impersonator-cum-CEO Jeff Bezos. But we’re not here to call names or point fingers. We’re here to report, thoroughly and objectively, on emerging trends in the company’s—and its vaguely reptilian CEO’s—recent plans.
You might have heard Amazon set its sights on Hudson Yards in Manhattan as the location of its next brick-and-mortar bookstore, one of likely many to come. Coincidentally, New York City is also the terrestrial entry point chosen by Norse trickster god (and supervillain bent on world domination) Loki in Joss Whedon’s 2012 The Avengers. But really, what’s in a location? It’s all in what you do there.
Amazon’s choice to open bookstores at all doesn’t make immediate sense, especially since Bezos, who practices his dance moves atop the mass grave of the unknown bookseller, would seem to have little affinity with the brick-and-mortar world.
Amazon, of course, thanks to how it cuts book prices to drive out competitors, almost never turns a profit, instead getting paid in consumer data. To see prices at the store, customers scan the book’s code on their phones, sharing their buying preferences and giving Amazon the chance to offer recommendations or coupons—basically, anything that will get people to buy more stuff. Amazon Books essentially serves as a giant satellite dish for information about buying habits, with uncannily well-targeted ads painted billboard-style across the back.
Which, also coincidentally, is the evil plot of your standard episodic superhero show: Oh wow, this new store is wonderful and cheap! What could they be up to?! Oh, right, mining souls via mind control.
And then, in yet another move that could not be described antithetical to the practices of Captain America’s enemies, Amazon has also continued in its persistence to develop drone delivery programs (though not without challenges from the FAA).
But we’re not casting aspersions on Amazon. We’re just saying a distinct difference between the company and mass murderer/part-Ice Giant Loki is that the latter never specifically targeted small booksellers that serve their communities, and not that the levels of empathy with which they pursue their goals are notably different.
In the long run, it’s unclear whether Amazon Books will hurt the local NYC literary scene; after all, local bookstores here are strong and gaining ground. When the new store opens it’s unlikely we will have to abandon the city for the good of humanity à la Watchmen. But it does seem proof of Amazon’s plans for continued experimentation and expansion, which will likely be nefarious, and which almost certainly won’t help the publishing world.
Hannah Koerner is an intern at Melville House.