In its second-largest acquisition, Amazon buys the company for $970 million.
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Musicnotes has enhanced Guitar Guru with a virtual fret board that displays the proper fingerings in real-time. An adjustable playback and tempo feature also enables students to take the lesson at their own pace. Musicnotes began implementing digital technology originally to drive the sale of hard copy sheet music. But downloads now represent between 70% and 80% of sales, a fact that impresses direct marketing analysts. “The site appeals to a more serious buyer who wants to get right to the artist of interest and avoid the promotional fluff,” says Shari Altman, president of direct marketing consulting firm Altman Dedicated Direct. “The digital technology does more than just let customers sample the merchandise. The download samples and interactive lessons create a very unique shopping experience.”
No one will ever confuse Powells.com with Amazon.com or other sites that peddle books alongside clothing, electronics, toys, and other merchandise. From the personal recommendations of staff members to the ongoing tales of Fub the store cat, Powells.com has the feel of a neighborhood bookstore staffed by avid readers.
“We want to capture the sense that we are passionate about what we do,” says Michael Powell, president. “We want people to sense they are in a real bookstore buying books from real people.” Powell also operates six stores and five warehouses in the Portland, Ore., region.
Powell’s Books, an independent bookseller since 1971, went online in 1994. The web site now accounts for about a third of the retailer’s sales, Powell says. Its inventory includes more than 4 million used, new, rare and out-of-print books and 40,000 DVDs.
In addition to book listings, Powells.com presents a wealth of material designed to bring customers back to the site. Among features are interviews with authors, daily book reviews, and original essays. In October, Powell’s introduced 12-minute podcasts featuring interviews with leading authors, breaking news from the book world, short readings, and music performances. The interviews are recorded onsite at Powells’ Portland store.
The podcasts are one more way for Powell’s to reach beyond its core base to people who want “something lighter, faster, and more conducive to a busy lifestyle,” says David Weich, director of marketing and development. During each episode, listeners have a chance to call in and win a $1,000 shopping spree at Powell’s.
The site also offers educational content. In one section, for example, Powell’s posts photos to illustrate terms used to describe features of rare books. It also explains the terms used to describe the condition of rare books.
Powell’s relaunched the site in July, upgrading search technology, putting more focus on recommended reading, and adding a best seller list that updates hourly. It also repackaged content about authors into one section called “From the Authors.”
“Every page is different,” Weich says, adding that site was due for a redesign. “It had grown up as web sites tend to do. You leave them for two or three years and end up with these appendages that don’t quite fit.”