Waterstones, the largest UK bookstore chain, announced this morning that it would be partnering with Amazon to sell the Kindle in its stores, rather than competing against the Seattle company with its own digital books platform as Barnes & Noble has done.

Based on his comments related to the announcement, I think Waterstones managing director James Daunt is underestimating the potential for the digital book market, and I wonder if the company will end up regretting the decision not to develop a digital books platform of its own.

Here’s what he says at the end of a video released by Waterstones as part of the announcement.

“The question obviously will arise: Are we forsaking the physical book for the digital? Not at all, I think that digital is very much an adjunct to reading a physical book. They in no way replace the pleasures that one has from having a bookshelf at home, from the tactile experience of reading a physical book. What we do recognize, and which quite clearly our customers are saying to us, is that in some circumstances — traveling and the like, most obviously — a digital reader is convenient, and better way to read. What we are doing by this is giving our readers the ability to buy all of their reading from Waterstones in the best possible manner.”

Maybe digital books aren’t replacing the tactile pleasures of physical books, but they are nonetheless replacing print books for a growing number of people — already outselling them by some measures. Viewing them as a mere adjunct to physical books seems like an epic blunder, especially if that outlook contributed to the decision to partner with Amazon on the Kindle.

My bet is that Daunt — who previously called Amazon “a ruthless, money-making devil” — will look back on these comments in a few years and cringe.

Comments

  • S Crayne

    Oh, horse poop to the dire predictions.  For casual readers, a book reader may suffice.  For students, scholars, writers, researchers and serious readers a Kindle or Nook won’t do at all.  It’s not about the tactile experience: for study a random access device, aka codex, aka book, is what’s required.

    • Steve Dossick

      It’s worth thinking through your argument; how many “students, scholars, writers, researchers” are purchasing their content at Waterstones today?  I would argue that the incredible portability of readers (both dedicated readers like Kindle as well as multi-function devices like iPad) overshadows the tactile joy of a physical book for most people.

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