Waterstones will sell Kindle ereaders on sale for the first time and offer free wifi, so customers can buy a book or download it instore
Waterstones has announced a surprise tie-up with Amazon that will enable shoppers to pluck ebooks as well as physical books from its shelves.
The companies did not reveal the terms of the deal, but Waterstones said it was planning a digital revolution in its stores, with Kindle ereaders on sale for the first time and free wifi, so customers can choose between buying a physical book or downloading it then and there. It is also opening instore cafes as part of a major upgrade of the 30-year old chain.
Its managing director James Daunt who has historically been very critical of Amazon’s modus operandi, describing the website as a “ruthless, money-making devil”, struck a more positive note, calling the new venture an “exciting prospect”. “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.”
Signalling his commitment to move with the times, Daunt posted a YouTube video explaining the rationale for the deal which will see Kindle books and ebooks sold through the Waterstones website. The announcement comes as a surprise, as the retailer was thought to have been in talks with US bookseller Barnes & Noble over using its Nook device. In a statement, however, Daunt described the “Kindle family” as the “best digital readers” on the market.
Daunt denied Waterstones was “forsaking” the physical book, but said some of its customers found ebook readers more convenient. “Digital is very much an adjunct to the reading of physical books,” he said. “They in no way replace the pleasure from having a bookshelf at home, and the tactile experience of reading a physical book. This will complement and strengthen the traditional attributes of the bookshops to which the company remains fundamentally committed.”
Waterstones is the last “range” bookseller – the largest of its near-300 stores stocks 200,000 titles – of any scale left on the UK high street. Daunt, the founder of Daunt Books and a former banker, was parachuted in to lead Waterstones last year after it was sold by HMV to Russian billionaire Alexander Mamut for £53m. Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos was today full of praise for the book chain. “Waterstones is the premier high street bookseller and is passionate about books and readers – a dedication that we share deeply,” he said. “We could never hope for a better partner to bring together digital reading and the physical bookstore.”
Amazon itelf is, however, a controversial player in the books industry. Its dominance has seen it taking on the role of retailer, publisher and even librarian, causing both publishers and retailers to complain that its aggressive pricing is undermining the success of the industry as a whole. In its most recent results Bezos boasted that 130,000 titles were now exclusive to the Kindle store and that its “Kindle Owners’ Lending Library” was also proving popular.
Last month the Guardian reported that Amazon.co.uk paid no corporation tax on the profits generated by last year’s UK sales of £3.3bn – and is under investigation by the UK tax authorities.