Life goes on for Waterstones with Amazon? – From the store to online and back again…

The high-street is crumbling and the Waterstone/Amazon deal appears to have not met with the approval of one Industry professional, Philip Downer. Is his “downer” on the deal justified or slightly hypocritical? Let’s examine further…

A look at how “industry experts” in my view fail to either see (or at least acknowledge) what’s really already happened here

In what many writers have claimed a surprise announcement, it’s revealed that Waterstones (the high-street book seller) has entered into an agreement with Amazon in relation to the sale of ebooks.

Quite why a renowned high-street seller of “physical” products in a beleaguered marketplace signing up with a hugely popular and profitable Amazon would come as a surprise to anyone is quite baffling, however since I first read the news in the Guardian newspaper – that perhaps explains much.

So what does this mean? The details of the deal are sketchy, however I think its safe to assume that there will be a method of online purchase through Amazon in-store.  According to the Guardian:

The companies did not reveal the terms of the deal, but Waterstones said it was planning a digital revolution in its stores, with Kindle e-readers on sale for the first time and free Wi-Fi, so customers can choose between buying a physical book or downloading it there and then. It is also opening instore cafes as part of an upgrade of the 30-year old chain……”We needed to solve the digital question,” he said. “We think this makes the Kindle experience better as you can now read digitally and enjoy the pleasures of browsing in a physical book shop.”


Ok. So lets get this straight, Waterstones expect you to come into the shop and order on-line, that which you do not need to leave your home to do anyway? And for those that want a physical book, they can come into the shop as normal?  So the question needs to be asked, if someone is to order on-line, why bother coming into the store in the first place? And how many digital customers have a need of looking at physical books? After all many Kindle titles have a preview option, are we really suggesting the digital future involves people trudging to the shops to look before they buy a digital purchase?  I don’t think so.

So this leaves the question, what is the real reason for the deal.  Barnes & Noble have signed up with Microsoft, which if they didn’t have problems before, they certainly will have now.  The details of that deal involve Microsoft ebook readers on its WP7 platform and presumably Windows 8 products, which means they are already doomed – just look to Nokia for how well struggling business fares with a Microsoft partnership.

Perhaps the aptly named Philip Downer’s (and industry experi) comments were surprising:

It’s a huge disappointment really. There are alternatives out there. Waterstones falling into the arms of Amazon feels like a victory for Amazon.


So with Philip and his “downer” on Amazon, next comes the hypocritical or at least a touch of irony phase.  Whilst he appears to talk about Waterstones “falling into the arms of Amazon” it seems he personally has no such reservations.  He’s written a book he wants to sell you.  And guess who he sells it with? Yes, Amazon.

My ebook, “A Year at Front of Store” is available through Amazon’s Kindle Publishing in the following territories: United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy and Spain.  Do treat yourself to a copy!


The truth is, when you get past the Philip Downer’s of this world with apparent protestations of a large firm like Amazon,  digital products and services are here to stay and overtake the traditional purchases of yesterday.  How are they best achieved? By the backing of large firm with the financial backing to distribute material to a wide audience.  Lets put aside the whole DRM argument for a minute which mainly attacks with a theory of what may happen at some point in the future.  The high street is dying and maybe theres a generation of people the high street will cater for in the short term, those they don’t have a net connection (which, I believe in the very near future) will almost be regarded as a deprived household – a moniker which we haven’t seen in the UK since around the 70’s when it was given to households without indoor bathroom facilities.

I think Amazon (and any large digital provider of material) is seen as a threat by not only the high-street, but those who take a living from it by proxy.  After all if we take out the massive Amazon for a minute and merely look at how simple it is to try an on-line service concept (with minimal risk) then you can see why “consultants” and the other associated people of the high-street would not like digital business.

So for Philip and his Amazon downer, it only seems to stretch as far as other people.  As far as he’s concerned (I assume) he’s happy to flog you his book through a company which not only has made a very successful business model out of its ebook products, but also produces a fantastically well built device offering good value for money to the consumer.  It done all this without jumping in with companies like Microsoft and now Amazon looks upon its opportunities with high-street partnership.  Whilst there are still questions to be asked in respect of how this will work out, suffice to say good on Amazon and despite claims of “walled gardens” I think it will end up (as it is already) benefiting the consumer.

I would ask a couple of questions of Philip and these mainly come from an article he wrote.  First and foremost would be in relation to:

I argued for the removal of DRM (which would enable ebook users to be device and retailer agnostic);


I could go straight for the metaphorical knock out blow and ask then why he would choose to sell his book through Amazon, a company which is probably one of the better known implementers of DRM and ask merely this: Does he realise that DRM (in respect of ebooks) was busted open a long time ago? Does he release that whilst yes, DRM is not ideal and certainly not to be encouraged, it can be removed with a single app with a click of a button by even the most technically inept of users? Surely the argument has been and gone, Mr Downer in his article claims to look at history yet has missed this rather important facet and if there were arguments to be brought, the DRM one is old and largely irrelevant.  Mr Downer – There will never be a DRM that cannot be circumvented – there isn’t even a sacred format or medium, you can still load data from audiotapes of the 80’s for a CPU which no longer exists (emulation).

In respect of the Waterstones/Amazon deal, he has this to say:

For Waterstones, the opportunity to create an independent online business, benefitting from HMV firepower and leading one day to an ebook solution, was lost.


Which is easier said than done and it should be obvious to even the most industry uninterested that to ask a company like Waterstones – who to be fair are not exactly riding high on a current wave of financial success to take on an established company like Amazon, late in the day is rather bad advice.  B&N are trying that and I’ll go on record now to say that B&N have already signed their death warrant by thinking that Microsoft in any way will turn their fortunes around.  Rightly or wrongly the Kindle is synonymous with ebook reader as iPhone is to smart-phone (and I know thats probably an invite to be flamed but check it with your average mainstream consumer some time)

As for Mr Downer, it seems to me to be a very much “do as I say not as I do” attitude, since despite his protestations in regards to Amazon, he’s quite happy to use them to sell you his book.  This perhaps is why Amazon will ride the highest on the digital ebook distribution, where when you consider the excellent value, solid Kindle and the massive market-place, begin to see the attraction for consumers.  As for the naysayers? DRM – No issue.  Amazon turn into an “evil empire” with the fate of millions of literary works in their hands? no.  They are a distribution medium.  The market has and will vote with its feet.  If Mr Downer wants to talk about history then he should have no “fear” of Amazon.  Did Nintendo retain its stranglehold on the console market? No. How about Sony? No.  Even as I type this we see the news Chrome has allegedly overtaken IE. As I say when people are wanting a different service, they vote with their feet.

I’ll end on Philip Downer’s closing comments on his article:

There’s an irony in there somewhere, but I fervently hope that history’s lessons can yet be learnt.


And I hope for Mr Downer, I’ve pointed out at least one of the ironies here.  In the meantime I would also say that regardless of the finer points of the Waterstones/Amazon deal, they’ve made the best of a bad situation and “history” in my view will show them faring far better than B&N.

Tim (Goblin)

If you are new to this blog (or have not yet read it) please take time to view the OpenBytes statement, here.

Skype: tim.openbytes

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