Marriage of Convenience

October 7th, 2013 by Editor Leave a reply »

In an interview this weekend for the Guardian, Managing Director of Waterstones James Daunt discussed his decision to stock the Amazon Kindle in stores across the country.

The decision came as part of a dramatic overhaul that Daunt has been carrying out at the retail chain since he was hired by the Russian billionaire Alexander Mamut, after Mamut bought Waterstones from HMW two years ago.

In reply to those that have said that stocking Kindle tablets and e-readers is like ‘inviting the fox into the henhouse’ Daunt has said that he is merely ‘giving customers what they want’. He went on to write off concerns that book-buying customers might disappear completely once they have got hold of an e-reader, convinced that the market is reaching an equilibrium and that only a small minority will abandon print books altogether.

These comments, however, fail to address the matter from which criticism has stemmed. The issue is not whether Waterstones should remained focussed on print books, but rather whether Daunt is wise to allow Amazon to set a shop-front in their stores across the country.

In an article in the Bookseller this month it was reported that Amazon ‘control 79% of the e-book market in the UK’. It is a battle that, for the moment, they have won. And so they seek to tighten their strangle-hold on the physical book industry. Their purchase of Abe Books and The Book Depository, combined with the astonishingly low prices they are able to offer by not paying tax of any kind, has meant that they have already claimed great swathes of the book-buying public. Now, it seems, Daunt is determined to funnel those customers still dedicated to buying from the high street into Amazon’s ever-widening maw.

Once customers have bought a Kindle from Waterstones will they not be tempted to do all their shopping in one click, bundling their ebook and print books into the same basket? It is certainly true that – as Daunt mentions – many readers retain a strong tactile relationship to books. But are they going to continue to return to high street for them if they are being led by the hand from the stores that they frequent?

In the short run, it makes a lot of sense; Waterstones will make more money. But in the background Jeff Bezos will be lurking, keeping an eye on his enormous clock and rubbing his hands together with glee.

SF

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1 comment

  1. Bappa says:

    Daunt says: “If you can download a book for free and read it, why would you want to own it?” That is the eenssce of the issue and one which no one hereabouts can really answer. Mind you the issue is a future one, not a current one. Looking ahead ten years, or fifteen years to a world where paper books are slim minority of titles.eReaders will become ubiquitous as they are already doing. They will become a commodity that virtually everyone can afford, like mobile phones and there will be no worthwhile role for libraries.In today’s model paper books are and have been expensive. That cost has motivated both middle class and working class readers to use libraries where they can read free, alongside buying a couple of books a year. The model involved physically visiting libraries and, by doing so, discovering new authors which balanced, in part, the loss of sales.In the future world of eBooks this model will die. The vast majority of readers will buy online from their PC or eReader. As the transition progresses we already see libraries offering online borrowing services where readers, again, have no need to visit a physical library.Thus the physical experiential difference between buying and borrowing will become invisible and non existent. When that difference disappears there is absolutely no motivation for a reader to buy !!! None.When that day arrives it will become crystal clear to every writer and publisher that it will be insane to continue to allow borrowing. It will simply make no financial sense because every reader will borrow instead of buy. There will be no physical experience that causes the discovery of new writers. The whole experience will be an online one.This will have no negative affect on society whatsoever, except to put librarians’ noses out of joint.eBooks will be cheap. eReaders will be cheap. Only a small segment of the population will have difficulty accessing the world of reading and that segment can be facilitated through Welfare driven reading vouchers that enable people to buy an eReader and eBooks at cut prices or free. This will cost society a minute fraction of the cost of maintaining thousands of expensive buildings and staff.Libraries have no long term future.

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