Media Monday: Has Waterstones sold its soul to Amazon?

Writing news

It’s “Media Monday” where I bring you my views on the latest writing and publishing news…

Isn’t it funny how things change? This morning, I was all set to write this post about the fact that Prime Minister David Cameron’s new biography reveals how he likes to ‘chillax’ (his words, not mine) by singing some karaoke, calling his tennis machine the “Clegger” (I kid you not) and kicking back to watch a DVD box set. After I’d sewed my sides back up from laughing, making yet another mental note to ALWAYS WORK HARDER, I was greeted with the bizarre news via The Guardian that the UK bookstore chain, Waterstones, is hooking up with its arch nemesis Amazon to sell Kindles in all its Waterstones stores.

Now, look, call me a fool here, but isn’t Waterstones flogging Amazon gear a bit like Tesco selling Sainsbury’s own brand? Or, to put it in book terms, like Harry Potter asking Voldemort to give him a foot rub whilst reading a copy of The Worst Witch? Either way, aside from looking strange, it’s just not going to work. At this juncture, I have to point out that I am not normally one for the negative,Waterstones Logo and like Obama himself, I like to think, ‘Yes we can! ‘when approaching most issues (for example, ‘Can we eat this chocolate? Yes we can!’ ‘Can we finish this novel? Yes we can!’ ‘Can we ignore the icky feeling we get when David Cameron says Chillax? Yes we…Actually, no, we can’t.’)  I can see what Waterstones are trying to do by linking with Amazon, hoping, as I am sure they are, that it will help sales and drive footfall. But the thing is, climb into bed with a lion and, sooner or later, you’re going to get bitten.

If Waterstones was looking at this with more rational, unfettered minds (have you seen the slump in paper book sales lately?) they would admit that they were late  to react to the emergence of the e-reader and were similarly uninspired to proactively adapt and develop as the market rapidly changed. But wait, I hear some say. The Kindle is popular, speedy! Won’t that help poor old Waterstones? Well, to be honest, I don’t think it will. You see, one of the great advantages about a Kindle is that you can have instant access to books, where ever you are, what ever the time and what ever your attire (shops don’t like you turning up in your PJs. So I hear.) And so, if you do chose to make a specific trip to Waterstones, surely that negates the need for a Kindle, because you are in a shop! Ready to buy! Wearing clothes! A book, you think, I just want a paper book! I want to browse, feel the page, soak up the atmosphere. That’s what you are there for. If you wanted an e-book, you’d get one from your sofa with your feet up and the TV on.

To be honest, I think what Waterstones have done here is fail to recognise that consumers – us readers out here – like paper and digital book formats, but, just as you might like your boss and your betrothed, say,  that doesn’t necessarily mean you want to hang out with both of them at the same time. Yes, book stores need to adapt. Yes, it means the likes of Waterstones having to change their business models to survive. But that’s just the thing: we want them to survive and be themselves. By letting Amazon in through the front door and selling Amazon’s merchandise for them, haven’t Waterstones just banged the first nail in their own coffin? I hope not.  Or perhaps we are witnessing the beginning of Amazon’s entrance into their own-brand high street bricks and mortar store? Who knows what’s going to happen next. But either way, I’m just going to have to make like David Cameron and jolly well chillax about it…

 **Look out on  for Wednesday: Wednesday Wafflings” when I post the latest entry from my Diary of a Hopeful Author…**

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