Waterstones, the UK high street bookshop that was recently acquired by Russian billionaire Alexander Mamut, is to enter the e-reader/tablet market currently led by Amazon’s Kindle, and Barnes & Noble’s Nook devices.
The device is apparently already well along the way to production, a very quick turn-around after Mamut only bought the company for £53 million from HMV in May. But what is most interesting about this announcement – made by Waterstones’ MD James Daunt during a BBC Radio 4 You And Yours interview – is whether Waterstone can hold its own in the international digital market. Waterstones is currently a UK-only book chain, and will be competing against two of the biggest stores in the world in Amazon and B&N. The Nook and its ecosystem, for example, reportedly cost B&N $200 million to develop, and Waterstones is only worth about $50 million itself. Whether this means that the Waterstones e-reader will simply be a licensed device already produced by another company, or even if Waterstones allies itself with B&N to be their digital UK arm is open for debate.
We also do not know any of the sepcs of the upcoming device – even whether it will be an e-ink device for ease of reading, or closer to the next generation of Kindles and Nooks about to hit the market which are more like cheaper (at around $200) and smaller (at around 7″) tablets that perform a host of functions.
What is certain, however, that for any bookshop chain to survive the rapid move towards digitisation over the next decade will need a strong digital presence. And that presence should include an ebook presence. Currently, in a similar fashion to Apple’s ecosystem, the ease of use and depth of integration means that owners of Kindle’s will pretty much buy all their ebooks from Amazon, and owners of Nooks buy all their ebooks from B&N. If you do not have your own ecosystem you are being slowly squeezed out, or will be reliant on the small percentage of users that buy e-readers that come without a packaged ecosystem such as from Sony.