30 October, 2012

Waterstones and Amazon Sitting in a Tree...

... uncomfortably making small talk and pretending they get along just fine.

Did anybody else see this article on the BBC? It's the story that the new Managing Director of Waterstones has signed a deal with Amazon to sell its Kindle in store. Already unpopular for dropping the apostrophe from the name of the famous chain of bookstores, many people think James Daunts's most recent exploit is madness. Why sell the very product that is meant to be killing off the other products you sell?

It's this madness that makes me think he's on to something. The man is a former banker, used to making big commerical decisions. He could be mistaken, but I don't believe he's actually gone into this without doing some sums. He must really believe that it's the best thing for Waterstones. As he says himself,

"If they [the customers] choose to read digitally, then I have to get involved in that game."

If you read the article, you'll see that Mr. Daunt has some big plans for Waterstones - some of which sound really good. This isn't a man trying to kill off the biggest bookstore on the high street. But we're all fallible. Do you think he's made a big mistake?

I have to admit that I don't use an e-reader of any sort and I really love books as well as the stories they contain. But there's no point pretending digital publishing hasn't taken the world by storm in the last few years. And I'm pleased to hear that increased sales of digital books have not led to an identical decrease in physical books. At the moment it seems as if digital publishing is just encouraging people to read more.

This brings me to the controversial point of how we buy books. Both Amazon and Waterstones have been accused of killing-off independent booksellers. And, I confess, I buy nearly all my books on Amazon - often second-hand. I know that if I was an author struggling to make a living, I would want people to be buying my books new, but I only buy new when buying a present or when I know the author.

Last year, I think I bought one book from an independent store. I love the idea of independent bookshops, but I'm not doing all that much to support them. Just as many people love the idea of butchers and grocers, but still get all their food at Tesco. (For the record we get our milk, meat, eggs and veg locally!). I know I'll be partly to blame when independents don't exist anymore.

Do you buy from independents, chains, or online? Do you think it matters if we lose independent stores, or is it just hard cheese for the sellers? And do you buy more books now so many are available digitally?

16 comments:

  1. I'm afraid I do as I always did and for most books I use the library. The difference is that I now use the ebook library and not a physical one. When it comes to buying books I still buy more of the paper ones than digital. I'm a sucker for a glossy cookbook full of photos of yummy food...

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    1. Physical libraries are a good thing - nothing to be sorry for. Did you know an author gets paid when you borrow one of their books from a library? Digital libraries I don't know about though, but they might be the same.

      Oh, I can't imagine buying digital cookery books. Flicking through pages of photos of food could never be replaced digitally!

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    2. I didn't know that the author gets paid - I assumed they'd only get the money from the library buying a copy of their work in the first place. :)

      I think digital libraries work in the same way. They certainly seem to have bought in a fixed quantity of each book and you loan it for a 2 week period before the file expires which then releases it for someone else to borrow so I'd hope that the author gets the same treatment through it as well.

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    3. That's good to know. I mean, the author only gets about 7p or something, but it's the principal of it that's important and if your books are popular then it could still be a good income once you have plenty of them.

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  2. I'm not an e-reader either, and now that I finally live just a few doors down from an independent bookshop, I do use it (but also buy a lot in Waterstones too). But did you know that you are actually only borrowing the e-books you buy for your Kindle, according to Amazon's T&C? They can take them back at any time without warning or redress.

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    1. I did hear that and that's another reason I don't have an e-reader yet. I would also worry about not actually "owning" any book I've bought digitally when the next bit of technology comes along and my e-reader isn't compatible with it! But I don't know enough to know if that's a legitimate worry!

      Perhaps Jenny (above) has it right - borrow digitally, but buy physical copies!

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  3. I'll admit I didn't read the article, but I think it's probably a good business decision. You can't fight technology.

    I have a kindle and read about 25% of my books on it. I prefer the old fashioned book, but brand new books are expensive. And I don't buy them often. I read most of my books from the library. But there are indie authors you can't get at the library, so those are the ones I mostly BUY for my e-reader.

    I don't buy from our independent book stores very often. The two reasons being: price. And convenience--they are not close and I don't feel like driving. But price is the main factor.

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    1. That's it, isn't it. Independent stores have to be competitive on price. People might accept a bit of a price hike for the service and novelty, but not such a huge difference. If they're not competitive I guess they will die out, and that's life isn't it? As an evolutionary biologist I can understand that!

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    2. To me, a big part is customer service too. I'd be will to pay a little more for better service. But I get better service in B&N than I do local places sometimes.

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  4. I missed the article too but oddly enough a thought occurred to me the other day that in order to survive stores like Amazon maybe ought to have cards almost like book covers on the shelves alongside each book that's available as an e-book. You take it to the counter and buy it in the same way you would a printed book. Your e-book is then ready to download.

    When Waterstones came to town my favourite independent bookshop closed down, which was very sad. I'm a Buddhist and it had the best selection of books on Eastern thought etc in town. The fact is, though, that Waterstones has an even better selection as well as all the other stuff. And somewhere to have a cuppa while you're reading!

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    1. I assume you meant "stores like Waterstones" not Amazon? It's an interesting idea.

      Cafes within bookstores are one of my favourite things! Cafes in well-stocked reading libraries would be even better!

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  5. Funny - I went into Waterstones a few weeks back and saw a table with loads of e-readers plugged in (like they do with ipads etc in Virgin) and I didn't blink twice. Made sense to me.

    I like buying e-books because they are cheaper but only for short work - like a collection of flash fiction or poetry. This way I can read it on my phone on the bus or something. I'm not keen on having yet ANOTHER device.

    I love independents - it's like a treat. If they get the atmosphere just right then they have my cash. Plus, I often buy VERY nice books in independents - hardbacks of books I love which you can't get easily on the internet. And don't want to run the risk of having them posted and damaged (happened many a time). There is this particular amazing bookshop I was going to blog about next week! You'll see - if it's done right, you won't be able to help yourself. :)

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    1. Ooooh, I'm intrigued. I always love it when I go into one (though I then always feel obliged to buy something). It's just not something I get round too much. I usually try one trip while Christmas shopping!

      We bought me friend a gift voucher for a kind of reading spa in Bath where she got to go along and the owner recommended books to her based on her tastes, and she could try them out etc. She loved it!

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  6. I think it's the old supermarket vs greengrocer scenario. We want what we want, when we want and at a price we think is right. But, if the boot were on the other foot, and content farms created literature, we writers would have a blue fit. Having said that, I wear several hats in the debate. I've just self-pubbed an ebook via Amazon (doesn't count as a plug because I didn't mention the title!) and I have two short fiction ebooks with a US publisher. But I'm also awaiting delivery of a paperback version of the novel, and I plan to approach indies as well as you-know-who. The independent bookshops can't be all things to all people, but what they can do is build a sense of community in their locality. Price is always an issue, but some folk are happy to pay a little extra because they can see that it's contributing to more than just the cover price.

    Are Waterstones right to get into bed with Amazon? It's a strategic move and probably better than seeing someone else take their side of the duvet - someone unconnected with glorious and tangibly physical books.

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  7. Independents need to focus on providing a hub for readers and good personal service I reckon, Derek. It's not good enough to just complain that nobody comes to you anymore unless you are willing to offer them something more than they can get at Waterstones or online. You charge people more, you offer more.

    I guess you could say that by running themselves as an independent business they are entering a COVENANT with their readers...

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