Some people think CEOs fall asleep every night reading market research or the latest "must-read" business best-seller. That is so not true, as the Millennials I work with like to say.
Anyone who knows me knows my taste in business books pretty much starts and ends with Yertle the Turtle. And though occasionally I'm forced to digest market analyses late into the night, I prefer to read honest-to-god books about people--past, present, real, not real--and about "the course of human events," as Thomas Jefferson put it. History, biography, fiction, in other words. Traditional books with paper pages. The kind sold at brick-and-mortar bookstores.
Turns out I've got a lot of company, even among Millennials--I've always said they're a smart bunch. A recent article in Forbes noted 79% of them reported reading a printed book in the past year, nearly twice as many as enjoyed an e-book. And some independent bookstores are reporting their best year ever.
If you think this is leading to a discussion of Amazon's new brick-and-mortar bookstore in Seattle, you're right.
People are treating the development as one that's thick with irony: first you beat them, then you join them. I see it as a potentially savvy move. I can't wait to see how it plays out.
I often buy online from Amazon because it's so easy, as long as you know what you're looking for. But brick-and-mortar bookstores offer a different experience altogether. You can browse to your heart's content and discover books you'd never see on the lists compiled "for you" by an algorithm. It's the same experience as listening to a college radio station--how else would I ever learn about groups like Beirut or AWOLNATION? In a bookstore you can observe other people's reading habits and get recommendations from employees, then decide whether to take them. And kids love the children's section.
Amazon claims it's combining the best features of online and offline shopping at the new Seattle store and improving upon them. Amazon ratings and reviews are included with the books, which sell at online prices. And the store is displaying front covers instead of spines. That's great for people who struggle to see the top and bottom shelves, but it means less room for books. The store is selling only Amazon's best-selling and highest-rated titles along with a smattering of classics and employees' picks. So it's not exactly in competition with Powell's in Portland, Oregon, or another great bookstore, Kinokuniya in Kuala Lumpur.
I was curious about which classics had made the cut in Seattle, so I did a little survey based on some reported CEO favorites.
One of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos' favorite books is said to be The Remains of the Day, a moving novel about change and regret by Kazuo Ishiguro. Not surprisingly, it's a recommended title in the Seattle store. But AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson shouldn't expect to find The Brothers Karamazov or anything else by Dostoyevsky. Among my favorites are Robert Graves' Goodbye to All That and Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler (neither one available). None of these books, by the way, claim to show you how to make your first billion, but they'll enrich you immeasurably, and their exploration of life's hard lessons will teach you far more about business than recent chart-toppers like Ben Horowitz's The Hard Thing About Hard Things (in plentiful supply).
English author Anthony Powell titled one of his novels Books Do Furnish a Room. Just as true is that brick-and-mortar bookstores furnish a community and, more importantly, feed the minds within it. I somehow doubt that's Amazon's main motivation, but it's interesting that they're exploring this avenue.
And it will be very interesting to see if they make any money from it.