So, the main news of the day is that Waterstones has signed a deal with Amazon to sell Kindle ebooks through its store. I kid you not. You can read about it for yourself on the Bookseller or watch James Daunt making the announcement on this YouTube video:
There have been many mixed reactions in the publishing world and beyond, but overall there has been a lot of confusion. I stand amongst the confused, and the reason for that is partly due to an article posted only yesterday on the Guardian website which finishes up with '"We'll be different from Amazon," he [Daunt] says, with characteristic ebullience, "and we'll be better."' Furthermore, Daunt is the last person I would have imagined making a deal with Amazon.
Now, I am no expert in ereaders or the digital revolution; though I am passionate about it, I know there is so much for me to learn and understand. But that is the whole point: the majority of readers are probably equally, or even more, ignorant of the detailed mechanics and politics of the digital reading revolution, and many probably don't particularly care – they simply want good books at a good price. As far as many are concerned, Amazon is a force not to be competed with, and it is the best company because it is so cheap, and many of them will be happy with this new partnership. On the other hand, there is a significant body of readers who do not want to be tied to Amazon, who have other e-readers, and who are desperate for those other e-readers to be given a fair chance - I know this for a fact because I have come across them.
In my heart of hearts I cannot say that I think it is the worst idea ever, not from Waterstones' point of view, anyway. In fact, in many ways it makes good business sense and, as a Kindle owner myself, as long as Amazon doesn't end up buying out Waterstones completely, I can't say that I am totally against it. However, with an article like the one from the Guardian yesterday, and with Daunt having ‘described Amazon as "a ruthless money-making devil"’, this deal may give the impression that Amazon really cannot be competed with, and that Daunt has simply given in. In other words, it does not, in my humble opinion, reinforce the spirit of competition when someone so openly against an Amazon monopoly makes this type of announcement the day after the subtle suggestion that he intends to compete against them. It would be very interesting to find out when the Guardian interview with Daunt took place, and why the article was posted yesterday.
Anyway, this is all very ranty and not particularly technical, but I think it will reflect the confusion that many people outside the loop will feel. I cannot hide my disappointment, and I wish Daunt had not been so vocal about being different to Amazon if he knew all along that he'd sign up with them. I can only hope that many people will read the articles and responses to this that many a publishing professional will post today and in the week ahead, to get a better understanding of the mechanics of this, and the benefit to Waterstones, rather than simply assuming that Amazon have 'done it again'. Because, that would be heart-breaking. And to start you off, here’s is a response from Eoin Purcell, on his take on all of this: Thoughts on Waterstones and Amazon
Also, keep an eye on the Bookseller and FutureBook today, as Philip Jones will be going to speak to Daunt and find out more.