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Waterstones, eBooks and Amazon

October 12, 2013

Popping into Waterstones a few months ago to buy a present for somebody I was surprised to find them selling Kindles. Now it seems obvious on first view that this matches – selling eBook readers in a bookshop. However each Kindle is set-up to connect to Amazon, so they are in effect selling a competing bookshop with each device sold. It did make me wonder about the strategy behind this approach and now the boss there has talked about their thinking here:

It is his ambition to make his bookstores enticing places for customers that prompted him to make his boldest move yet – inviting Amazon to sell its e-readers and tablets in Waterstones shops –a move that has been likened to inviting the fox into the henhouse.

Daunt, who denies he ever called Amazon a “money-making devil”, says that stocking the Kindle was about giving customers what they want.

He dismisses worries that customers might disappear with their e-readers into the virtual ether – he is convinced only a small minority will abandon paper books altogether. “I have a strong sense we are reaching a sense of equilibrium with e-reading. E-reading works well – really, really well – in particular situations: noticeably when you are travelling, but it has clear deficiencies to the physical book.

OK…but sounds to me a bit short sighted. Look at the problems HMV, GAME, Virgin Megastores and the others had/have who sold devices to allow people to by-pass the physical shop, are now doing? Each iPod means a connection to another shop (iTunes) just as each console now connects to another e-shop. A senior producer from on the the larger console manufactures once told me they (the company in question) could have moved to digital downloads at a much faster rate than they had, except for they were nervous about annoying retail too early on: keep them sweet until its too late and they’ve sold the rope for you.

I don’t buy the optimism of Waterstones boss – the move towards digital is a wave that is going to crash onto bookshops leaving them little more than book themed gift shops and cafe’s in a couple of years time. I got an eBook reader a year or so ago and and now almost never buy real books unless its a present or to share for work; eBooks are now preferable to me in most ways.

What these ‘locked in’ devices do offer is an opportunity to make eBook shops that users can connect to as competition so readers can find other works and shop around, whatever device they use. That what Waterstones should have been selling instead of Kindles, IMHO.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. October 13, 2013 1:01 am

    I like this post and want to say that I have a big enough book collection to open up my own mini-bookstore, and understand and feel many of the concerns tied into digital books over physical ones. However, I must say that, as alarmed as I initially was by how popular and scary digital books have become in recent years, i have had this discussion over a dozen times now and really feel almost everyone who buys books regularly agrees with my sentiment that physical books are not dying off. I go to my (somewhat) local bookstores all the time. They still are stocked with tons of books including hundreds of new selections all the time and their staff(s) haven’t dwindled whatsoever. Looks like physical books are still and may always be the more connected medium to enjoy reading, though many of these same people trickling through the bookstores and ones I converse with regularly on Goodreads do read digital books, many from Amazon. But, most will state or argue that they will always prefer physical books over and ‘love the smell of a real book’ over a digital one, a commonly agreed upon comment made by nearly everyone I’ve spoken with. TBH, I seriously think the digital world, inc. eBooks and social network sites centered around books, has only increased my obsession with books and book collecting and made me more aware of books out there both on the shelves and available for download or onsite reading. I am more connected to the bookworld as a whole and write reviews frequently, connecting to hundreds of readers and several authors, inc. some big name ones. I say all this because I really do think I buy more books, and though hundreds of them are digital, I know for a fact that my physical book collecting has increased greatly, meaning, I’ve bought more physical books each year for the last 5 or so years since I joined up on book-related social network sites while also purchasing my share of digital books: eBooks & Kindles as well. And I am not even as fully employed as I was before all this tbh. So, though it took me a long time to understand and realize this, I don’t think physical book sales or support has changed as dramatically as I first thought was going to happen, and as far as I can see, is still part of a thriving market, though I suspect books have been published physically on a more limited scale, which, honestly, only increases the value of each physical book, making them less disposable, something I personally value very highly and considerably.

    • October 14, 2013 2:40 pm

      I also buy more now I’m digital than before – a lot of that is down to the fact it is cheaper to take a risk on a new thing – I can get a sample for free and often the whole book is a couple of quid. However I do suspect that the value we put into books will diminish as the opening up of platforms means so much more is published… Interesting points though and thanks for commenting.

  2. October 14, 2013 2:24 pm

    Personally, I’d like to see something like what is being done with DVD’s and comics at the moment. Buy the paper version and get a free digital version as well.

    As someone who worked in a bookshop as my first Saturday job I have a deep love of books but I’m guilty of owning a kindle as well. My stack of novels has shrunk as I replace many of them with Kindle versions but what hasn’t gone down (only up) is my collection of art/film books. Big, glossy, colourful and able to crush your foot if dropped. If they become available in digital format they would probably fill a hard drive now but I’d imagine in a few years they will be around.

    • October 14, 2013 2:41 pm

      Getting the free digital version is a good idea; I’d see this as a route for Waterstones to generate a new user-base in digital via physical…

    • October 15, 2013 1:14 am

      I agree with Tomas that the value of books is diminishing but I hope somehow there will be a wall met eventually where true book connoiseurs will hold the diminishment to never cross a certain line. I also love the idea everybody here agrees on that David brought up and Dan has furthered that physical and digital could / should be sold together. I have seen several instances of this happening over the last year and hope it becomes a regular thing. I do also think that the physical books themselves will increase in craftmanship, and have seen it affect here an there. Better artwork, greater paper material, with embossed print and eye-catching designs that was really fading away over the last decade that was really bothering me. The standard British covers flooded the bookshelves were becoming ‘too mature’ and looking too much like text books as far as their formats were concerned. Evidently, they were trying to do away with the idea that fantasy, horror, and adventure books, because the artwork was flairingly dramatic and perceived as ‘kid-like’, were ‘dumbing down’ the market and the range of readers due to it. I am glad to notice this horrible 2000’s trend seems to have only been a phaze. With digital books on the rise, physical books produced very recently have strong cover art for the most part and the paper stock and binding looks quality and many are put together nicely. A fear I’ve had as a book collector seems of less concern than it did just a couple years ago. I’d like to see what Adam stated, a cut for the bookstores selling Kindles. Any ideas to strengthen the support for mom & pop owned stores is always weighty on my mind. I try to always frequent my many favorite bookstores first before ever purchasing those same books I can find online and am still worried over the longevity of said bookstores.

  3. October 14, 2013 2:46 pm

    obvious thing is to sell kindles with an affilate whatsit built in so the shop gets a cut of any ongoing sales

  4. October 14, 2013 4:04 pm

    There are good points on both sides here. I’d side with Michael, as I do have a Kindle but after the initial novelty wore off I stopped using it. But then, I still buy CDs, vinyl and cassettes and still shot film, so maybe I’m a dinosaur. What I really would like to see though, is the best of both worlds that many record labels have now adopted of selling digital and physical together. A download code for the easy carry convenience and a physical item and paw at and admire on the shelf.

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