Waterstones, in a surprise move, has partnered with Amazon to sell the e-tailer's Kindle e-book reader, as detailed in a press release and seen in a video, below, from managing director James Daunt.
What a difference a few months make in the fiercely competitive digital versus physical retail wars. In December, Daunt called Amazon “a ruthless, money-making devil," adding, "They never struck me as being a sort of business in the consumer's interest.”
Waterstones, the UK's leading bookseller, was bought from HMV for £53m by Russian billionaire Alexander Mamut last summer and Daunt, founder of Daunt Books and a former banker, was brought on board to reinvigorate the troubled brand.
In December, he pondered launching an e-reader called, say, the Windle: "You'll walk into a Waterstone's and there'll be a bit of the shop where you can look at e-readers, play with them. We're inventing one of our own – perhaps we'll call it the Windle – and we're working on the Barnes & Noble approach. They've embedded their own e-book, called the Nook, within their bookshops and have succeeded in taking market share from the Kindle," he told the Telegraph. (B&N's Nook recently struck a deal with Microsoft to firm up its own future.)
Now Daunt is singing a different tune. His comment, to the Telegraph, on the Amazon deal: "This works for both sides. We are clearly going to be selling lots of Kindles and e-books, so that is good for Amazon. But we have a sensible commercial arrangement and one with think makes it worthwhile for us. We earn nothing from digital books at the moment."
Daunt gave no details on Waterstone's cut for the agreement to sell e-books and Kindle devices in its stores, he did the deal represents a virtual ‘digital revolution’ with the e-readers on sale, free Wi-Fi so customers can choose between buying a book or downloading it, and in-store cafes as part of a major overhaul for the 30-year old chain.
"We needed to solve the digital question. We think this makes the Kindle experience better as you can now read digitally and enjoy the pleasures of browsing in a physical book shop," said Daunt to the Guardian.
Waterstones is the last "range" bookseller and its largest store (out of close to 300) stocks 200,000 titles. The partnership with Amazon puts Waterstones on a par with competitor WH Smith with a catalogue of 2.2m titles and one million free books on the Kobo e-reader, its partner for the past year.
Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos praised the deal. "Waterstones is the premier high street bookseller and is passionate about books and readers – a dedication that we share deeply," he's quoted by the Guardian. "We could never hope for a better partner to bring together digital reading and the physical bookstore."
Daunt says Waterstones is not "forsaking" the physical book, but adding convenience for many of its customers. "Digital is very much an adjunct to the reading of physical books. They in no way replace the pleasure from having a bookshelf at home, and the tactile experience of reading a physical book,” he told the Guardian. “This will complement and strengthen the traditional attributes of the bookshops to which the company remains fundamentally committed."
This deal with the devil may prove heavenly for all concerned.