Waterstones Embraces the Kindle

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.

Waterstone’s To Be UK’s Next Kindle Competition

Everybody knows that Amazon doesn’t release the sales numbers for their Kindle eReader.  That being said, some analysts have estimated that the popular eReader will sell over 17 million units this year alone and that the platform as a whole now accounts for as much as 10% of Amazon’s overall revenue.  That doesn’t mean that the Kindle is unassailable, of course, but it is definitely difficult.  The Barnes & Noble Nook has proved both parts of that.  Now, in an effort to revive flagging sales numbers, British bookseller Waterstone’s is going to try to replicate the B&N success story.

James Daunt, the Waterstone’s managing director, said in a recent BBC 4 radio interview that he was inspired by the Nook’s success in the US market.  So far, Barnes & Noble has not decided to expand their eReader presence beyond the US in spite of the exceptionally favorable reviews of their most recent generation of devices, which leaves a gap in the market for somebody else to exploit. Lately, given the consistent downward trend of most of Barnes & Noble’s non-Nook numbers, this seems like a great model for an otherwise declining company to make a comeback with.

Right now, Waterstone’s does not have a hardware partner or much in the way of solid details in terms of their intended offering.  Daunt has claimed that the company is “well down the planning line” on the way to an early 2012 launch are somewhat encouraging, but there is a lot to get done for such an ambitious move.  This is a fairly late stage to be entering into eReading on short notice, given the high quality of the current generation of eReaders.  Even the Kindle is sometimes only considered second-best by comparison these days.  That’s a lot to measure up to for any newcomer.

Since the closing of Borders Books and Books Etc, Waterstones seems to be the only major brick and mortar book seller in the UK market.  At a glance this seems to be something of a last-ditch effort.  The Waterstone’s internet storefront, which has been selling eBooks for some time now, has failed to compete successfully against the Kindle’s UK store.  A hardware tie-in would guarantee some returning business, but only if customers can be persuaded to adopt the new platform in the long term.

One of the biggest considerations for people seeking to build their own eBook library is whether or not their purchases will eventually be rendered useless by the end of a format or the closing of their chosen retailer.  Whereas Amazon seems to be around for pretty much the foreseeable future, Waterstone’s will have to make a big impression to avoid losing customers to the fear of obsolescence.  Add into that the overwhelming probability that there will be a new and improved Kindle released even before the Waterstone’s eReader comes to market and it will be a much tougher sale to make.

As always, competition is the most important driving factor for product improvement and customers should welcome a new serious contender to the eReader marketplace, but so far there isn’t enough detail to get your hopes up for.