It wasn’t all that long ago when UK Bookseller Waterstones was bragging that they had their own eReader in the works that was going to be a dramatic improvement over the Kindle line. While I think it is safe to say that the failure of such an eReader to appear is unsurprising, the fact that the news of plans being changed comes along with the announcement of a partnership with Amazon for selling the Kindle is rather impressive.
In keeping with a redesign of the stores themselves, Waterstones customers can expect to see dedicated areas of the outlets set aside for digital reading purposes. Presumably this will include easy cafe access and free WiFi. Other than the fact that Waterstones will now be able to jump into eReading in some small way, however, it is hard to say exactly what their plan of attack will be here.
Details, aside from the abandonment of previously reported Waterstones efforts at eReader design, have not yet been made available to the public. They will not be available, in fact, until this fall. Considering that James Daunt, the guy in charge of Waterstones at the moment, declared just months ago that Amazon “never struck [him] as being a sort of business in the consumer interest” and called the online retailer “a ruthless, money-making devil”, it must have been a fairly impressive deal.
We know that Waterstones will not be selling the Kindle hardware any cheaper than Amazon’s own store or any of their other partners. Not only was that obvious anyway, Daunt himself confirmed that it would not be happening. Everything they pull off will have to be related to the sales of the media. This opens up a whole field of speculation.
It is definitely possible that this will be an opportunity to finally bring together hardcover book sales and digital reading. Customers have long asked for an opportunity to acquire their eBooks at a discount when they already own the physical copy and if Waterstones was to start selling bundles priced roughly equal to the cost of a hardcover book it would give them a major edge in marketing alone.
This would also be a good opportunity for Amazon to test out some of Barnes & Noble’s tricks. Using the Special Offers aspect of the Kindle to display coupons and other such deals any time a user is connected via the Waterstones WiFi would be a start, for example. It wouldn’t hurt to put together the same sort of free access to entire eBooks that Nook owners get in B&N outlets, but that might be stretching things a bit.
Without knowing more about how the partnership is structured we can’t say anything for sure. This doesn’t seem like the smartest move for a major Brick & Mortar chain, though. Amazon is many things, often many positive things, but kind to physical outlets would not be one of them. The whole arrangement smacks of a last ditch effort to test out possible ways to keep physical book stores from losing traction in the face of the overwhelmingly popular Kindle. In that respect, as a fan of the bookstore, I can only offer my sincere hope that they succeed in finding one.
Target was among the first major Brick & Mortar retailers to begin offering the Kindle to its customers. For many people there was a period when this was literally the only place they could try out an eReader in person rather than blindly trusting that it would meet their needs. Now, with the Kindle everywhere and Amazon widely demonized as the bane of all storefront business, Target has decided that it would be best to say goodbye to the Kindle and Amazon for good.
Target Corp manages over 1,700 stores as well as a major retail website of its own. The company become a huge name recently by beginning to pass Walmart as the most inexpensive shopping location available for a variety of goods. While overall still slightly behind Walmart in general, it was reported last year that Target had begun to reliably offer less expensive grocery and household goods to its customers.
This is relevant to the company’s ending their Kindle partnership because the reason cited for the move was an increasingly popular practice called “showrooming”. Showrooming is what retailers have come to call the act of window shopping in a local store while comparing prices with online outlets like Amazon.com on a smartphone. It can result in impressive savings for customers, but big retailers complain that it amounts to little more than exploitation.
Amazon is tied into this practice fairly deeply. In addition to offering the widest selection of inexpensive goods on the internet and a subscription-based service that allows free two day shipping to reduce wait times, the internet giant has even created smartphone apps to make the act of showrooming as painless as possible. Using their smartphone apps, customers can simply scan the barcode of whatever they are interested in and be taken to the Amazon.com page selling it.
While it is definitely understandable that Target would be upset by the practice and with Amazon in general, it is hard to imagine this as a particularly productive move on their parts. While Target undoubtedly earned little money off of individual Kindle device sales, the Kindle line was their bestselling tablet/eReader this past holiday season and it is almost impossible to actually use a Kindle for showrooming given that even the Kindle Fire lacks a camera and cellular connectivity. At best this is a punitive move rather than an obviously productive one.
Interestingly, this plan does coincide with the decision to add internal Apple shops to a number of storefronts over the coming year. The Kindle and all related accessories might be in the process of disappearing from stores, but they have stated that “We will continue to offer our guests a full assortment of e-readers and supporting accessories.” Presumably that means the Nook will be sticking around. If you are in the market for a Kindle, you can still find them at any number of retailers including Best Buy, Walmart, and Staples.
Sources have recently reported that Amazon may be about to open up a whole new direction for their Kindle marketing. Before the end of this year we can expect to be seeing the first small store or stores arriving in Seattle. This seems to be intended as a preliminary effort directed at determining the viability of such outlets as a real money maker, but there is some reason to think that this could be a big factor in the future of both the Kindle and Amazon’s new publishing imprints.
With Barnes & Noble’s recent decision to effectively ban all of Amazon’s new efforts in the field of publishing, the company is going to be needing new ways to showcase their products. These boutique style stores would offer them the chance to make up for the lack, especially as it seems likely that their intention is to increase their involvement in publication rather than let it fall away under external pressures.
While it seems less likely, given that focus will probably be at least somewhat important, there is even the chance that this will be Amazon’s biggest move so far to show off their product lines in various other areas aside from books and eReaders. Their AmazonBasics consumer electronics line has at least some connection to things like the Kindle Fire, even if their Strathwood furniture wouldn’t fit so well. Hard to imagine that even a small store could be properly stocked using nothing but three Kindle eReaders, the Kindle Fire, some accessories, and whatever books they are able to get published before the end of the year.
Interestingly, this is not the first time that Amazon has been rumored to be working on building themselves a physical presence. Unlike previous instances, though, the details do seem to add up here. In addition to the fact that the proposed pilot store would be in Seattle, home of Amazon and a state where sales taxes are already being collected by the company, the initial report indicates that they have already contracted store design through a shell company. It will be small rather than something intended to compete head to head in every area at once with other retail giants like Walmart, which also makes a good deal of sense for a company that derives a great deal of benefit from being highly distinct from such stores while still offering amazing savings. Most importantly, unlike the 2009 rumors Amazon has not jumped in to quash this one before it takes hold.
While there are downsides to building a Brick & Mortar presence for the Kindle line, especially given the numerous partnerships that Amazon maintains with the likes of Best Buy and Target to keep their hardware available on the local level, being able to highlight something with as much investment behind it as the Kindle Fire and its anticipated successor might well be worth the risks. Hopefully over the next few months we will learn more about how Amazon intends to show off the Kindle to their advantage.
In what is just the latest point of conflict between Amazon and Barnes & Noble over their relative positions in book sales, B&N has announced that they are unwilling to stock any Amazon published works in their stores. It is clearly an informed decision that responds to multiple pressures coming from Amazon.com and online retailers in general, but it also raises the question of whether the Brick & Mortar chain can make such a bold move without drawing customer attention to the value of owning a Kindle.
The stated reason behind this decision is that Amazon has been increasingly successful in arranging exclusivity agreements with major publishers and authors that have prevented the competition from being able to provide the best possible service to their Nook customers. A fair point, and not one that many people would disagree with. Amazon is definitely fond of throwing their weight around. At the same time, however, it is a general admission that the Nook is unable to manage to compete on equal terms against the Kindle as things stand right now and possibly not the best way to reassure customers and investors of the long term viability of the product line.
This also relates to the extremely controversial practice of “showrooming” that has made headlines regularly ever since Amazon released their price check app for iOS and Android smartphones. Since Amazon’s structure allows them to save a great deal of money on things like local stores, they can offer lower prices on a wide variety of things. This is especially the case with paper books, where it is extremely unusual to fail to catch a deal compared to any local retailer. A company that relies on their overt physical presence as much as Barnes & Noble does will obviously be negatively affected by such instant access to price comparisons since it deters impulse buying and turns their stores into profitless showcases for another company. By refusing to carry the physical copies of Amazon’s new publications, they clearly hope to demonstrate to those lured into exclusivity agreements that the Brick & Mortar is still vital to success.
Again, I can’t help but feel that this is a big gamble. If Amazon were not already well ahead in book sales then this would not be a problem in the first place. The Kindle has, thanks to their huge investments and the very exclusivity arrangements that B&N is unhappy with, built up the most substantial library and user base in the eReading world. It will take something drastic to knock them back down to a manageable level, but the idea that Barnes & Noble showrooms can have that kind of influence is questionable.
This feels like something that will end up turning major authors into Kindle exclusives whether they intended to be or not, further devaluing the selection at Barnes & Noble. While they have also declared that these books would still be available through web services, it will take a lot of customer loyalty for that to be a viable purchasing option compared to Amazon.com.
These days there is a lot of talk about how, though it’s great that the Kindle is taking off and eBooks are becoming ubiquitous, it’s really a shame that the local bookseller is becoming a dying breed as a result. It is definitely a little bit sad to have so few options when you want to go out shopping. I miss the smaller stores. What brings all this to mind today is the news that Borders(NYSE:BGP) is filing Bankruptcy this week.
Now, admittedly you can’t call Borders a small retailer anymore, but that is how they started. The fact is, book stores in general just aren’t doing as well since websites, specifically Amazon(NASDAQ:AMZN), became the go-to retailer for all your reading needs. As much as many stores, Borders in particular but others as well, try to diversify their product in addition to doing everything they can think of to attract readers, it’s hard to maintain the local face of a company in spite of declining sales. Even Barnes & Noble(NYSE:BKS), pretty much the big name in books for as long as I can remember, isn’t exactly doing as well for itself as it needs to be in spite of their efforts (and successes) with the Nook.
Given my own enthusiasms, I would like to give credit to the Kindle. It’s great hardware, has an impressive platform behind it, and the selection that we have available as a result is second to none. In many ways it’s like you’ve got a book store in your pocket, assuming you prefer garments with slightly over sized pockets.
Much as I’d like to place credit there, though, the trend began before the Kindle was more than a thought and a hope. Maybe not even that. This year is the first time the eBook is competing with the paperback on equal terms from the start, and it’s definitely the first time we can expect to see any comparable numbers between Kindle book sales and the print medium as a whole. eBooks are a big deal, but they’re just now realizing their potential.
What changed the game for the Brick & Mortar crowd, the way I see things, was the convenience and the successful marketing of the Amazon.com website. It wasn’t the first place to buy books online, but it has had a great selection from the start and the best selection anywhere since fairly soon after it got moving. Add in the functionality as a used book vendor, the inclusion of other media (and non-media) options besides books in the same purchase without there being any effect on your dedicated book browsing, and the decent review system that lets you improve your chances of getting the most for your money and there are options that no book store, small or large, has been able to keep up with.
So yeah, in a very real way I think that it is Amazon’s work that we see when book stores close down left and right. But they did it by giving people what they wanted and doing a better job than the stores that closed. Sure, I’ll miss being able to walk into a Borders when they’re gone (as most of them will be soon), but given the choice I know I’d rather shop through Amazon most of the time anyway. Apparently most people feel the same way.