The ABC of Waterstones: A Bookseller’s ‘Promised Land’
It’s been a big week in the world of Waterstones. Last Monday, we had the shock announcement that they would be hand-selling Kindles – their long-awaited digital strategy finally coming to the fore – followed by their refurbishment plans, introducing branded coffee shops to over 130 stores. There are so many buzz words I could use here but instead I’m going to confine myself to a run through of what seems to have emerged over the past week in the Wacky World of Waterstones.
This partnership was a shock for a number of reasons, not least because Daunt has a history of slagging Amazon off in the press and to publishers. This will see Kindles on Waterstones shop floors, being sold by Waterstones staff. The high-street chain will take an undisclosed cut on every Kindle sold, and every eBook downloaded over Waterstones WiFi.
My cynicism currently rivals the size of many planets.
I do not believe readers will take their Kindle to Waterstones to download an eBook – it goes against the principle of convenience that the Kindle represents. I do believe they will buy a Kindle from Waterstones and then go home and download their eBooks on their own WiFi, and then probably not need to go back to Waterstones for books (e or p or coffee) again, diminishing the footfall Daunt is banking on. It’s likely that Jeff Bezos believes this too. They are actively pushing customers toward a rival bookseller that sells pBooks at a higher discount. Hence the leap to ‘total moron’ best summarised by Boromir below.
I would have thought – and I could be totally off the mark here – that publishers will be able to dictate whether or not there is a bundling option for eBooks and pBooks. If they wanted to do this, they could have already done so with a number of retailers, specifically with WH Smith and Kobo. It’s not reached us yet. I think people (particularly the Telegraph, who leapt on what can only be described as a non-committal – possibly even evasive – answer from Daunt ) need to consider why that might be.
Bundling is a possibility for the future. Is it more likely to happen now that Waterstones has gone to bed with Kindle, though?
So coffee is the new apostrophe. Again, I’m not 100% sure that an injection of caffeine will drive up book sales. Did this work for Borders? No. I’ve seen bookshops where cafes make sense, for example in Blackwells in Oxford. But it’s Oxford. A bookshop is an acceptable place for a first date for around 40% of the population.
Even in their case, I’m not sure whether the café actually drives up book sales or whether students want to be seen sipping lattes with their Macbook Airs while mooching free WiFi.
It’s possible that Waterstones will make this partnership and refurbishment work, and I’m sure readers and publishers everywhere are tentatively crossing their fingers and murmuring ‘do not trust to hope’. It’s encouraging to see movement after such a long wait. But I think it’s safe to say we’re all hoping this is the first step in at least a three-step plan, rather than the fabled ‘promised land’ we’ve been waiting for from the high street colossus.