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.