Amazon phone: What does it mean for bookstores?

The new Amazon Fire phone comes with technology that allows consumers to scan an item and then purchase it on Amazon. 

Ted S. Warren/AP
The Firefly technology is used on an Amazon Fire phone.

Amazon recently revealed its new Fire phone, which included a feature that made many book industry watchers sit up and take notice. 

In addition to other capabilities such as 3-D technology, the Fire Phone includes software called Firefly that allows users to scan an item such as a book or a DVD and then have the phone direct them to the Amazon page where the product is being sold. It will also recognize everything from songs to e-mail addresses, more than 70 million products in total. Firefly stands out from similar technology because it makes going to Amazon to buy that item so effortless. It makes "showrooming," or visiting a store and going home and buying the product online, even easier if the online store you're going to is Amazon.

So what does this new phone mean for bookstores? Is this the death knell of the brick-and-mortar bookstore?

Some certainly took a dire approach to the news, with Salon writer Andrew Leonard titling his article about the phone “How Jeff Bezos will kill off brick-and-mortar retail, once and for all.” 

“That gasp you just heard came from every operator of a retail store that still depends on being able to convince live human beings to buy objects on site,” Leonard wrote of the news. “Because the Amazon Fire Phone looks like it is designed to be the most lethal comparison shopping device yet created.” Leonard also raised an interesting possibility, writing, “But one wonders: How long before stores start banning the Amazon Fire from their premises?”

Skylight Books of Los Angeles tweeted their displeasure with the new product, writing that “Amazon's phone allows our store to now be their storefront. :(," while Arizona's Changing Hands Bookstore wrote, "Get ready, booksellers. Amazon just made your store their showroom." 

And Business Insider writer Ashley Lutz called the phone “a showrooming nightmare.”

“Amazon's Firefly removes the middleman and makes shopping on Amazon effortless,” Lutz wrote. “That could become a big headache for competitors.” 

Altimeter Group analyst Rebecca Lieb told the New York Times that she believes the phone “is potentially a real threat to bricks and mortar retailers.” In addition, the NYT asked Amazon executive Dave Limp whether the phone could have apps on it that would let users shop somewhere else. “Our idea is to give the lowest price to the customer,” he said. “If we don’t have it, shame on us.”

But Amazon has to get these phones into customers’ hands for them to use the Firefly technology. And will the company be able to do that? 

Monitor writer Gloria Goodale spoke with Kevin Paul Scott, founder of the financial advisory firm ADDO Worldwide and author of the marketing book “8 Essential Exchanges for your Query,” who noted that many consumers like the phones they already have, with apps and personal information stored over years. In addition, the two-year AT&T contracts that the Fire Phone requires, costing $199 for a 32 gigabyte phone and $299 for a 64 gigabyte phone, are more expensive than many thought they would be.

Washington Post writer Hayley Tsukayama also expressed doubts about whether the phone will succeed, noting that “it's not a great time to get into the smartphone market right now, particularly in the United States where the interest in new smartphones is flat. Nearly everyone who might want a smartphone in this country probably has one, and once customers get into a certain smartphone maker's orbit, they tend to stay there.”

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