back to article Waterstones stores surrender to Amazonian invaders

UK bookshop chain Waterstones will start stocking Amazon's Kindle ereaders in an attempt to revamp its stores for the digital age. There were rumours last year that Waterstones might release its own ereader, which sprang from managing director James Daunt's discussion of digital libraries last year as a guest on BBC Radio 4's …

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WTF?

Cutting their own throat?

Surely a deal with B&N to get the nook onboard would have been better to protect their bricks and mortar business?

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Happy

Depends ...

If Waterstones can negotiate a deal whereby they get a %age from eBooks sold onto "their" Kindles, and provide a way to allow Kindle owners to purchase in store.

I happened to be in Waterstones on Saturday ... there were 4 books that I would have snapped up the eBook version of, if there had been a "here and now" way to put them onto my Kindle.

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Re: Cutting their own throat?

My thoughts exactly. Waterstones have previous form in this area though; they white labeled Amazon for a while before launching their own website, but this is orders of magnitude worse; all this nonsense about "curation" - I don't need a building to give me advice on which books to read; I already have the internet for that. At least a B&N deal would have given them a credible alternative to the 800lb gorilla of UK bookselling.

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Re: Cutting their own throat?

I had similar thoughts about B&N, I suppose they didn't go with Kobo as W.H.Smiths have been there for years now.

I got the Kobo Touch from WHS last February £89; unfortunately it died on me after just 2 months, but the free telephone and email support direct from Kobo was excellent. Their staff actually read the emails I sent and answered each question specifically, not a single "generic"/useless response.

They offered a direct RMA/replacement when we couldn't even get it to factory reset, but I just went back to WHS. My local store didn't have a black one in stock (pink's not colour) so I got a full refund and drove to another nearby town for a new one which was ten quid cheaper at £79 (and a new full years warranty). Took about 5 minutes for the new Kobo to be registered, updated to latest firmware and have my entire library downloaded again.

IMHO £79 for the Kobo Touch version is a lot better than £109 for the Kindle version and they all use the same ARM chip + e Ink screen.

PS: Does anyone else thing the Amazon TV ads showing someone using a Kindle floating in a swimming pool is an attempt to sell more devices, they are not water proof after all!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Cutting their own throat?

@David Evans: "I don't need a building to give me advice on which books to read; I already have the internet for that"

Although I'm happy to buy many things online, including music, movies, and software, I still very much prefer to buy books from a store. This is a personal matter naturally, and others approach books with different objectives and requirements. I might use the Internet as a starting point for obtaining a range of titles that could be of interest, but I don't rely on any 3rd-party advice to decide whether it will suit me or not. And here's what I like most about physical bookstores - I can take any book and browse any part of it for as long as I like to determine if it's what I'm after. In some cases, I can even take a pile of books into their coffee shop and browse while enjoying a coffee. I love the fact that bookstores can afford you that flexibility.

Bookstores on the Internet allow you to read a sample of the book, but it never seems to be any of the parts that matter to me. And here's the dilemma - if they let you browse the whole book, what's to stop you keeping everything you browsed? Many - including myself - would pay for it anyway, but the fear is that many others will not. I don't think the approaches taken with other Internet selling, e.g. music, are directly applicable to books, and I can see some very difficult times ahead for authors, publishers, and booksellers.

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Re: Cutting their own throat?

re: "PS: Does anyone else thing the Amazon TV ads showing someone using a Kindle floating in a swimming pool is an attempt to sell more devices"

Isn't that the very definition of an advert?

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Re: Cutting their own throat?

@Ralph 5. I was being slighlty flippant (I work in e-commerce for a bricks and mortar retailer, so buildings are quite important to me), but the bottom line is that individuals like yourself who want to browse before buying, don't cover the overheads of running a store chain. Waterstones HAVE to come up with a plan for migrating the bulk of their customers to online, with a much reduced store chain, probably for "distressed" purchases (e.g. in airports etc.) This plan simply drops their customers into the Amazon universe, with all the attendant enticement from Amazon to keep them there.

I imagine Waterstones are getting a cut of revenue; either as a customer bounty or a "lifetime value" type deal where they get a ongoing rev share. Problem with those types of deal is that customers routinely find ways to break pretty crm models (mainly by accident) and Waterstones will gradually find its customers just leached away by Amazon.

I'm a classic example; I LOVE browsing bookstores, but since I started using the Kindle app, I have to make time to go to a bookstore, time I simply don't have, and time that is becoming increasingly pointless anyway; I currently have nine books pre-ordered on my Kindle that will drop in right across the summer; I just don't need a bookshop; and even if the bookshop came up with some cool browse-in-store/deliver-to-ebook machanic, its still a convulated step that the majority of customers won't use.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Cutting their own throat?

"Bookstores on the Internet allow you to read a sample of the book, but it never seems to be any of the parts that matter to me."

Exactly. I want to flip through more of it. Why couldn't they let you flip through ANY of the book except for, say, the last two chapters? That way you'd still have to buy it to find out how it ends. Or, let you pick ANY page in the book, but limit the total number of pages you can view.

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Black Helicopters

@LB

"PS: Does anyone else thing the Amazon TV ads showing someone using a Kindle floating in a swimming pool is an attempt to sell more devices, they are not water proof after all!"

I strongly suspect that Amazon are not alone in attempting to use TV ads to sell their products ;-)

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Holmes

@David Evans

I find the biggest difference between browsing on-line and browsing a bricks'n'morter book shop is the impulse buy. eg looking through a section for a book I want, I'm quite likely to see something I didn't know about or may not have considered, maybe even in a totally different genre in a different section of the shop.

On a website, you generally search for something specific and get a tiny list of "other people searching for this book also looked at or bought..." Most websites are nopt really designed for "browsing" in the physical sense.

Maybe it's time for a 3D walk through on screen to simulate browsing around a shop? I'd think that could work well for both books and groceries. I'm sure it would increase impulse buying on-line. I know when I shop on line it's for something specific and I rarely impulse buy. In a real shop, impulse buys can sometimes be worth more to the retailer than what I went in for in the first place.

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Anonymous Coward

I don't like shopping or shops in general - BUT - you can't beat browsing a proper bookshop. I could do it for hours.

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Beating browsing proper bookshop

I agree, but unfortunately there's a cost associated with providing that bookshop, and it's greater than the cost of providing a popular online web shopfront and so I fear that Waterstones will go the way of the dinosaurs and disappear.

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Re: Beating browsing proper bookshop

So why are a lot of ebooks the same price as their paper counterparts?

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Happy

Though I generaly agree...

... the Kobo store has loads of "Previews" of latest release (typically the 1st chapter) so you can just try any you like in the comfort of your own home.

Up until last year I was definitely on the "real books are often cheaper and less liable to break" side, but once the price came down to a reasonable amount (they start at ~£60 now) I decided to get one as I spend a couple of hours a day on the bloody train commuting and the Metro/Ev.Stanard are getting more full of celebutard crap by the week.

I'm a convert; my Kobo (even with a nice leather case) is lighter that all but the slimmest paperback. When I take it too lunch and forget to pick my glasses up of my desk (I'm well and truely middle aged), being able to make the font bigger and increase the line spacing is great. As a result of getting this new toy I've read more books in the last 4 months than I had in the last 3 to 4 years, a lot of that is due to the free books and previews.

I would still always prefer to use real books for reference material or guides (eg: programming languages, cook books, etc...), but for a simple good read they are excellent.

There are also a lot of good cheap reads out there (not just all the classics) where new authors are able to self publish (a good example being the "Emperor's Edge" books, the first book was a free download from Kobo, the following 3 novels I was more than happy to pay for).

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CM

Re: Beating browsing proper bookshop

The paper/printing side of publishing is a tiny part of the costs. Pulping trees, printing have been ground down to a fraction of the total. Authors, staff, glitzy PR and big cheeses make up the bulk. An author did a breakdown of total costs on his web site if I could find the URL. Hector takes his unworked-for 1/5th for ebooks too.

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JDX
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Re: Beating browsing proper bookshop

And it's about economics as much as costs and margin.

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Meh

Re: Beating browsing proper bookshop

You're probably better off asking the publishers on that one - Amazon, when selling Kindle e-books, often states "Price was set by the publisher" against the price it lists.

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Angel

PS: In case anyone is a suspicious as me.

Just as pressed the submit button I realised my initials L.B. are the same as those of the author of that book series I referenced to. I assure you I just enjoy reading them (book 4 has to wait until I finish "Matter" by Mr I.M. Banks) and I had nothing to do with creating them.

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Re: Beating browsing proper bookshop

If paper/printing is such a negligible cost, then why aren't there any sites offering both a paper & e-version of books for one combined price? Personally I like the ease of use of the kindle but I do love having a paper copy for future-proofing/lending/bookshelf-prettifying. Even if there was a slight premium for getting both versions I'd happily pay it. Wonder if Amazon take requests....

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Re: Same price

Because they have the same perceived value and the purveyors of digibooks can get away with it - doesn't mean they're not making more profit from it.

Why is the cost of an MP3 album generally around the same price as a CD? Adele's "21" is 50p cheaper on MP3 than on CD (£7.49 & £7.99 on Amazon), yet it's just a few dozen MB of data on a server (or two, if you include backups) somewhere. The distribution cost of the album is vastly different comparing digital and physical media - and the difference for books will be even more apparent as the weight of some dead trees is considerably more than a CD, and the equivalent digital copy is usually a few MB.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Beating browsing proper bookshop

prices are the way they are for three reasons, firstly its set by the publisher, ie greedy swines!, secondly because there is less compertition in the market there will be less pricing differences, more compertition equals more promotional pricing, and thirdly because of a bizzar tax querk all normal books are VAT exempt, ebooks are not, meaning whatever the price is you need to slap on VAT.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Beating browsing proper bookshop

Perhaps. But there are two great, local independent bookstores nearby that do such a great job at the in-store experience that people try to buy books there rather than online in order to support them (or order books online through these bookstores and have them delivered. Or order the Kindle version of a book through the bookstore, which is something they do a good job of promoting in-store as a way to continue to support them). They tell me that business is booming (but then, they also have great locations, which must make a big difference).

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Beating browsing proper bookshop

There is no VAT on paper books, whereas there is on ebooks. But perhaps that's a rule in need of change.

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Re: Beating browsing proper bookshop

The Kindle Store is based in Luxembourg where the VAT rate on ebooks is 3%.

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FAIL

Re: Beating browsing proper bookshop

"The paper/printing side of publishing is a tiny part of the costs. Pulping trees, printing have been ground down to a fraction of the total. Authors, staff, glitzy PR and big cheeses make up the bulk. An author did a breakdown of total costs on his web site if I could find the URL. Hector takes his unworked-for 1/5th for ebooks too."

The price of books has been rising according to the publishers because of the cost of paper, manufacturing, delivery and storage. The reason the publishers now use for the high cost of ebook versions is that the author needs to get paid.

By the above rationale, the price of an ebook should be paperback price - cost of paper + cost of server space. And unless not cutting trees down, turning into paper, making a book, storing in a warehouse and all the delivering between those stages is roughly the same cost as copying to a server...they're ripping us off.

They use any excuse they can find to increase the price.

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This will not end well

Waterstones is selling a device whose sole purpose is to lock owners into Amazon's online store. What possible reason has Waterstones for selling it? Every one they sell is a customer lost forever.

They should have released their own ereader, or formed an alliance with WHSmith, Tesco and others to produce a brand of readers that ran over an open platform so that each of them could run their own stores and benefit from a shared ecosystem..

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Black Helicopters

Browse dead trees, gain magical pixels - sounds good to me

As a Kindle owner I'd say the largest impediment to me putting anything other than free books on it is the complete inability of a way to find books I might like to read.

The idea of browsing a bookshop to find the book you want and then them downloading it onto your kindle there and then sounds like the perfect combination.

Somehow, I doubt that's what they have in mind though...

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Re: Browse dead trees, gain magical pixels - sounds good to me

Yes, I don't think that's what they have in mind, but it would be nice. Bookshops could become show-rooms, with coffee shops and friendly helpful staff. I doubt it would make sense financially though.

You know you can get a sample of most books for Kindle, right? Which can often help with the decision. That's in addition to the look inside feature...

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Clearly I'm missing something

If you buy a Kindle from Waterstones why would you ever come back to their shops or website?

I don't even see what's in it for them; no eBook store to make continuing profits and only razor thin profits on the device itself.

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Re: Clearly I'm missing something

I don't know how many other people feel this too; I love my Kindle but I still love books more. I have found that I have started spending more cash on reading material in general since I bought my Kindle. For me, e-readers will never wholly replace books and I find myself in Waterstones every so often to treat myself to something new

But I guess new generations won't care so much about physical books (or have so many years of book-experience, let's say) so I suppose booksellers have troubling times ahead

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JDX
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Re: Clearly I'm missing something

They might get a % of all books sold to an ID which was originally created for a Kindle sold in store?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Clearly I'm missing something

I feel exactly the same way. And I've found I've started spending more on e-books AND paper books since I got a Kindle. I still visit physical stores frequently, mostly because they are in convenient locations to kill time in an enjoyable way, and I always buy something there when I do. And some physical stores will let you order e-books through their store, on the spot.

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Anonymous Coward

Waterstones R.I.P

Surely this deal will be the end of them.

Simply insanity that they didn't go the EPUB route with one of the established EPUB based readers (which happens to also support every smartphone and tablet too, out of the box, no software needed). WHSmiths have demonstrated how it works, with their Kobo deal that supports not only Kobo, but any EPUB reader. WHSMiths now need to step up a gear and offer instore purchasing.

Now they are Amazon bitches, Amazon will tighten the screws until Waterstones are dead.

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Re: Waterstones R.I.P

They use to, got my sony ereader from Waterstones. Get quite a few epub ebooks from their website. I think getting rid of the DRM would have been a smarter move.

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Happy

I work in a library area of an FE/HE college, and support an e-resources login system (shibboleth for the techs reading this) and we did look at putting some empty dvd cases on the shelves to show people 'look we have an ebook on this topic'. Maybe with QR codes. We even link to e-book and e-book versions of books from our library catalogue.

Our books are accessed via secure DRM'd platforms.

It's very much about the personal service from (mostly trained) library staff, and technical support from them (and the team I'm on, elearning, when things get technical or not obvious fault/user error). And having a dedicated space to peruse/read these materials. Our service is highly rated by other staff, and senior management. So you can mix paper and digital if you do it right.

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Re This will not end well

With more and more stuff issued on Kindle, we will wind up with Tescoisation. The supermarkets only list the top 20 books. Other than self publishing, the likelihood is that the number of books published will decline. And a consequent decline in bookshops.

The great thing about bookshops is that they allow browsing across all subjects as you wander through the store – this is difficult to do online [until we get 3D headsets to wander through a virtual bookstore]

Our local library service is not allowed to provide e-books on Kindle, other e-readers do not have this problem.

Personally, I avoid, where possible, any service where you are locked in, so I would avoid the Kindle out of principle

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Re: Re This will not end well

@Derek Kingstoke - I'd refine even more - Top 20 books aimed at a female readership. Nothing like Supermarket stereotyping!

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JDX
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Re: Re This will not end well

What? I can use a Kindle to explore more books than you could fit in an average Tesco, let alone a typical bookstore.

Look at the Amazon top downloaded books and you will see authors like Dickens, Conan Doyle, etc. Having an e-reader has led to me expanding my reading.

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It's the begining of the end.

Whilst moving house recently, I gave away 00s of books.

I felt sad, but I liken it to ditching my father's old 78rpm records and LPs.

Times are changing and our children won't be reading as much paper as we did.

They will be reading their news on tablets and their favourite books on e-readers.

Now pass me my Horlicks and slippers, I'm going for an afternoon sleep, I'm that old.

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Facepalm

Surely you can download onto your Kindle in store?????

Pretty sure most Waterstones are near a coffee shop with free wireless. If you have to, absolutely have to have a book there and then, why not wander to a place with free wifi and grab your books on you Kindle that way? If you have a Kindle with built in 3g get your books there and then :) If Waterstones are selling Kindles, they surely can't get miffed if you walk around the store checking books out and then downloading them in store?

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