A couple of months ago, The Wall Street Journal reported that Amazon had struck a deal with British book retailer Waterstones to sell Amazon Kindle digital readers in all its 294 stores by this September.
This development, according to the Journal, “reflects the growing need for physical book retailers to get a piece of the digital business”. But in the very next paragraph, it said: “The gains in digital reading have also called into question the future of booksellers like Waterstones”.
Am I alone in thinking this is all a bit counterintuitive?
A physical bookseller is being threatened by the growth in digital readers so starts selling digital readers in its stores.
Let me mock up a conversation between the store manager at the cash register and the buyer of said digital reader.
Store manager: That’s just £99.
Buyer: Here’s £100. Keep the change – you need it more than me.
Store manager: Thank you. And you come back and see us again soon.
Store manager: Come back and visit us again soon.
Buyer: Why would I do that?
Store manager: Eh?
Buyer: Look at what you’ve just sold me. Why would I need to set foot in a bookshop ever again?
Store manager: Oh. Yeah. Shit.
Talk about desperation stakes. This is like a family of deers who run a coffee shop in a Texas state park during hunting season deciding to open a hunting rifle section because they’re not making enough on their Cinnamon Spice Mochas.
Waterstones, in its defence, says it wants a chance to craft a “digital environment” based on the Kindle in its physical stores.
I don’t think that means anything. If I had to guess, I think they think that Kindle owners, rather than sitting in the comfort of their own home choosing ebooks to buy off their computer, or off the Kindle itself, will traipse down to their local Waterstones to visit its “digital environment”.
No, that definitely doesn’t mean anything. I suspect Amazon may have had a hand in creating the notion of a “digital environment”, and some fool at Waterstones just bought into it.
No doubt it will help Waterstones make a bit more revenue in the short term, but it won’t ultimately save them or any other bookstore from the fate suffered by Borders last year. It’s not that people will stop wanting to buy physical books; it’s that, at some point, there won’t be enough of them to create the kind of footfall needed to keep the physical bookstores out of Chapter 11.
That’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy, not the eleventh section of a book.