Little House on the Amazon



Galley Cat notes speculation on a patent filed by Amazon for a small building design. (The patent’s here…) The Street weighs in with that claim that “If, indeed, Amazon were to embark on retail locations, analysts think it would only spell disaster. ”

Well, maybe it depends on what you mean by a “retail location.” It’s true that you’d have to be bonkers to build a bricks and mortar bookstore these days. That means that either Amazon is bonkers, or… It’s not a bricks and mortar bookstore.

Along with some good guesses at TechFlash (including a reprise/hangover of Amazon Fresh), I’ll venture one that hasn’t been raised yet: that this is not an outdoors structure at all, but rather a kiosk for rail stations and airport concourses. Specifically, it’s for renting out Kindles.

Right now Amazon’s the only place to get a Kindle, meaning that there’s no in-store way to “try before you buy.” Once Amazon’s pretty well scooped up early adopters from their own customer base, they’ve got to start hitting John Q Public. The easiest place to do that is in railways and airports filled with travelers ready to spend on books and magazines for their trip. Why not spend the same money, plus a modest deposit off the credit card, on a preloaded rental Kindle?

And, of course, if you get hooked on the Kindle during your flight… why, they’d also be happy to sell you one as well. It’s a way for Amazon to expand their reach into a natural market, all while keeping a tight rein on overhead by keeping clear of big-box retailers and other middlemen.

While Amazon’s Terms of Service prevents owners from renting out Kindles, it doesn’t prevent the company from doing it. (In fact, digging around reveals that they did indeed try a Kindle student rental pilot program last year.) And if they’re doing a fresh load-up of the books and mags with each rental, the publisher’s won’t care either.

We’ll see. But if you notice a bunch of workers building stuff by that transfixingly awful magician mural in SeaTac, don’t say you weren’t warned…

Paul Collins teaches writing at Portland State University, and his work appears regularly in New Scientist, Slate, and The Believer. His next book, The Murder of the Century, will be published in June by Crown. More from this author →