There’s been no letup in the pressure on bookstores with the continued growth of eBooks, but Waterstone’s, the largest bookseller in the UK is taking a different approach. Cutting a deal with Amazon, Waterstone’s will refurbish stores, create dedicated areas for digital books, add cafes and free wireless access and - sell Amazon Kindles.
You might wonder if this is a last gasp of a dying business/delivery model, or if Waterstone’s is pursuing an innovative approach that acknowledges the future omnipresence of eBooks in a highly digital environment. According to BBC News:
As well as selling the Kindle device, Waterstones will allow Kindle users to digitally browse books and take advantage of Waterstones’ special offers.
In a statement, James Daunt, managing director of Waterstones, said: “The best digital readers, the Kindle family, will be married to the singular pleasures of browsing a curated bookshop.”
Jeff Bezos, Amazon.com founder and chief executive, said: “Waterstones is the premier High Street bookseller and is passionate about books and readers – a dedication that we share deeply.”
Analysts say that Waterstones has little choice but to ally itself with Amazon.
“If readers are increasingly downloading books, then it is better for Waterstones to embrace that behaviour than to try and work round it,” said Douglas McCabe from Enders Analysis, told the BBC.
“Kindle has a massive market share of digital book reading in the UK, and Waterstones will start to take a cut of it.
“However, for all its success, Amazon does not have a solution for ‘discovery’ in physical or digital [books] that even comes close to the merchandising skills inside a branch of Waterstones,” Mr McCabe added.
No choice or a creative move? To me, the most striking part of this project is not the word “eBook” but the phrase: “the singular pleasures of browsing a curated bookshop.” The idea that the selection offered within the physical spaces of Waterstones is “curated” is important – we don’t often hear that term used in the context of a bookseller.
Like traditional print media, bookstores need to rethink what they do well and what they can offer in a highly digital environment. What is the value of the physical space? What might you sell that the eBook reader cannot deliver within its current technology? Perhaps you might sell eBooks, coffee, space for conversation, and a unique selection of physical books. Don’t sell – curate.
Of course, once you head down the path of innovation, you also need to rethink what your employees should be doing. For a bookseller, you want a well-read staff with people skills because you’re now hiring curators. And maybe they should get something more than minimum wage. And do something other than stand behind the cash register. Waterstone’s may have taken an initial innovative step, but they probably should take a stroll over to an Apple store and look at their self-checkout process. Break the mold if you want to survive.