Last week, a new alliance between supermarket Sainsbury’s and social reading site aNobii rocked the publishing world. As I’ve said before, aNobii have been ramping up their online presence of late and it seems to have paid off with this deal, sparking some discussion as to whether this was Sainsbury’s well and truly making their move into eBook retailing. But can they realistically take on the giants of the book selling industry? In a fight between young-gun Sainsobii and godly Wamazon*, who would win?
In the Orange Corner…
Sainsbury’s. Bookseller of the year 2011; poised to usurp power from traditional bookshops everywhere; reporting profits UP, market share UP; gaining strength in new sectors; and recent partner of social reading plus online retailer aNobii.
In the…other… Orange Corner…
Amazon. Keeper of the Kindle keys; online retail giant; a name synonymous with online book buying; an international corporation whose ruthless tactics have led to massive success; whose logo permeates the internet like mould in blue cheese; publisher, retailer, megalith and new ‘partner’ of Waterstones bookseller.
Round 1: Social
Sainsobii: Anobii have been doing everything they can to widen their reach in the UK, and their site is based on the idea of recommendations set up by the user, giving their customers a sense of power rather than prescription. Anobii also has Facebook sign in, a dangerously important tool for fitting in to their users’ established online lives.
Wamazon, on the other hand, have long been criticized for their lack of engagement with ‘social reading’. Their rating and recommendation system has come under fire time and time again for fake reviews. Whether or not this is true, one thing is certain: Wamazon may have a prolific website, but that website does not feed content to the rest of the internet in the same way Sainsobii seems set on doing.
Round 2: Customer Service
Sainsobii have a history of good customer service through the supermarket chain, and are well equipped to deal with this through the usual channels. However, they’re inexperienced in eBook retailing.
Wamazon employ the dual attack of excellent online service, with delivery tracking and a team of dedicated staffers, plus physical stores for help with the devices if you don’t know how to use them. This expertise deals a deadly blow, ensuring their proprietary eReader is placed into as many book-reading hands as possible.
Round 3: Reach
Sainsobii: Sainsbury’s have a massive customer base who have already proven that they do want to buy physical books. They also have a huge database of customer information, and probably a mailing list of people whose numbers compare to Australia’s population. Anobii’s reach is pretty woeful, but using Sainsbury’s platform they have the potential to reach an audience of millions, which, with the right message, is a hugely powerful thing. Also, aNobii have the backing of three large publishers, which could play well in Sainsobii’s favour when it comes to joint promotions.
Wamazon: Waterstones holds a questionable (read: small) amount of customer data. Amazon have a user base comparable to that of the world’s population, and are firmly established as THE online bookseller. But they are not a local business in the UK, and have recently got a decent amount of bad press that might be limiting their sway with UK-based book buyers with a sense of economic responsibility. Is the UK public ready to move onto the next thing? Maybe.
Too close to call
So, as with all things, fighting has solved nothing. I don’t think we’re in a position to say whether Sainsobii will act on all the opportunities it has, and Wamazon is not one to stand idly by when presented with a challenge.
One key thing I would like to point out is that BOTH retailers are in a position to use books as loss leaders. It’s not a practice I agree with, but no bookseller thus far has been in a comparable situation. If Sainsbury’s can compete on price while offering something that Amazon don’t/can’t (ie: a reading experience integrated with their online lives, a buying experience integrated with their daily shop), Amazon could be in for some major disruption.