The announcement by James Daunt, the Managing Director of the UK’s largest bookshop chain, Waterstone’s (sorry, but I am an apostrophe pedant), that he would be stocking Kindles in his stores from 25 October has already been met with outrage, confusion, acclaim and criticism by the reading, publishing and business communities. Mr Daunt’s decision may seem to sound a deathknell for the printed book – indeed, he is quoted as saying “Do we have an awful lot of books in our shops that don’t frankly sell?…Yes, and they actually shouldn’t be there. I do think the shops will have less books, but they will remain absolutely first and foremost physical bookshops.” – but this blog considers what options are open to Mr Daunt in embracing the world of independent publishers and their novels.
As the arrangement has thus far been described, one of the key additional services that Waterstones will provide is the ability for shop visitors to browse recommendations made by the shop’s staff, just as they do now, but on Kindles as well as in print. As Daunt puts it, “You are in a bookshop, you can pick up any of these books – you haven’t bought them yet – you can browse them. Until you leave the shop you don’t have to pay for them, and that same principle should apply to a physical device as well as a digital e-book.”
What isn’t clear is whether this browsing will be made available via the standard Kindle sampling technique as it stands on Amazon at the moment or whether, as many of us have done, you will be able to flick right through the book, possibly even to the end, engaging in a compact but complete browse-reading experience. Waterstone’s are doing what they can to enhance the experience of the shop as an environment in which to enjoy the experience of reading as well as shopping, by introducing more seats and the cafés, but what will they do to embrace, manage and promote the far greater sphere of published material available on Kindle as opposed to in print?
If Waterstone’s have made a truly open arrangement with Amazon in terms of allowing access to all their stock, then one strategy for independent publishers would seem to be to approach the Marketing Department at Waterstone’s, or indeed individual stores and store managers, just as publishing houses have done for years. There have been myths and tales long told of how much it costs publishing houses to place books prominently in stores and supermarkets, but that practice will surely be affected by the Kindle deal and will it now be possible for any of us as independently published authors to saunter into our local Waterstone’s and promote our work directly to the manager and sales team? I like being able to read the recommendations of other readers when I am choosing a book, it can be a helpful way of sifting through the enormous choice when I am tired or in a rush or looking for a gift. So if Waterstone’s are serious about empowering their staff as readers as well as salespersons, then they should be ready for the rush of authors who are about to come through the doors, hoping their novels will get the attention of a friendly salesperson.
In the meantime, if Mr Daunt is reading this blog, then I ask you this. Please make a public statement about how you will be embracing the independently published sector of Kindle’s books, and how you will be working with writers publishing directly through Amazon to Kindle in this way to bring their novels to the reading public. I think you have created a fantastic opportunity for Waterstone’s to engage with and promote writers in a new way, and I’d love to hear how you are going to go about it.