Is Amazon planning to open 400 more brick-and-mortar bookstores?

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Could it be that Amazon is about to expand its fledgling brick-and-mortar business in a rather dramatic fashion, building up to 400 more bookstores to go with its current one?

Judging by information gathered from a mall operator’s earnings call on Tuesday, that certainly appears to be the case, though to be sure we should of course wait until we hear something official from the e-commerce giant itself.

Still, the Wall Street Journal was confident enough to run the story, naming the source as Sandeep Mathrani, chief executive of mall operator General Growth Properties Inc.

In response to a question from investors, Mathrani said, “You’ve got Amazon opening brick-and-mortar bookstores and their goal is to open, as I understand, 300 to 400.”

The Journal said it wasn’t clear where Mathrani got the figure, but suggested “he could have spoken with Amazon’s real-estate executives about their plans.”

Amazon surprised many when it opened its first ever physical bookstore in Seattle last November. It seemed odd that the company that made its name online – offering consumers an easy way to buy books from the comfort of their own home – wanted to take on all the overheads and hassles of running a brick-and-mortar book business, competing with the very outlets it’s own Web-operation has sought to squeeze over the years.

The expansion, if it actually happens, may be a move in part toward pushing its devices business, with the physical locations giving consumers a chance to try out its range of mobile offerings such as ebook readers and tablets, while tempting them with a range of printed books at the same time. Amazon reportedly uses data from its website to select about 5,000 titles for its Seattle site, many selling at low prices that match those found in its online store. In some cases the titles are displayed along with a selection of their online reviews.

We don’t have any information on when Amazon’s rumored expansion might start, though as the Journal notes, the amount of work it’d involve means a build-out that big would likely take several years to complete.