Today UK bookseller Waterstones announced a partnership with Amazon to sell its Kindle e-reader in Store.
Here’s Waterstones CEO James Daunt explaining the move on YouTube.
It marks a total capitulation for Waterstones’ and its approach to the Kindle: Daunt previously attacked the online retailer as a “ruthless, money-making devil.”
More specifically, it comes about as a result of this major UK bookseller’s inability to develop a coherent digital strategy of its own. Much like its former parent, HMV Group (which sold it in 2011) Waterstones had developed a piecemeal approach to digital, offering e-books on its site and a selection of e-readers from Sony, iRiver and others in store, but lacking a coherent consumer offering.
By contrast, generalist W H Smith’s deal with Kobo saw a narrow, consistent range of branded products being promoted heavily in store and online, with a much clearer integration between hardware and content.
Waterstones’ former owner, HMV Group, developed its own digital service for its HMV music retail brand in 2005, but spectacularly failed to promote it in-store or beyond a token presence online. The service closed some time after, with HMV then buying a stake in UK retailer / distributor 7Digital and relaunching the HMV Digital brand, not before it had ceded significant mindshare and market share of the online market to the ever-dominant iTunes.
In partnering with Kindle, Waterstones is accepting the dominance of the Amazon brand, but also acknowledging the lack of choice it had. It had left it too late to develop and launch an integrated service together with its own e-reader. Short of a full partnership with Sony – itself struggling to maintain foothold in the e-reader market – Waterstones had little choice if it wanted to remain relevant to the increasing number of customers wanting to make the transition from P- to E-reading.
For both HMV and Waterstones there were early opportunities to establish and maintain a brand and product relationship with customers before they considered moving to digital. The job of migrating them to digital is then much. Waiting until the customer is ready to move to create a relevant offering is leaving it too late – and means they have in all likelihood moved to another partner who has been consistently communicating on an integrated offering for years.
It’s difficult to see this as a win-win partnership. Amazon gains retail presence for its digital offering. Waterstones gains an opportunity to grow Amazon’s business.
When you don’t have a clear long-term strategy, then you end up using tactics, and retreating in the process.
Dominic Pride, Founder, CEO