Waterstones could sell other devices instore alongside the Kindle, as m.d. James Daunt said the arrangement with Amazon is not exclusive.
Speaking at the Hay Festival Business Breakfast panel this morning (3rd June), Daunt said: "We are not selling other devices but if there was another device that we thought was better then we would."
Speaking to The Bookseller after the event, Daunt said he would consider selling other devices "in the future", if customer demand was there. He said: "As you know, we were selling other devices when I arrived, and I kicked them out because, frankly, it was embarrassing. I mean they do sell multiple devices in places like John Lewis, there are all these Kindles lining up alongside one Kobo. For the moment, we are keeping it sensible. We will see how it evolves."
Taking questions from the floor following the panel session, which was chaired by Telegraph books editor Gaby Wood, Daunt said: "I've only just joined Waterstones, and it seemed totally astonishing to me, coming from an independent background to this big beast, that apparently they hadn’t given [e-book retailing] any thought before."
Answering a question as to why, in doing a deal with Amazon to sell the Kindle, he had "given in" to the etailer's near monopoly rather than asking the authorities to investigate it, Daunt said: "They could still investigate it. We were utterly irrelevant to the sale of digital, and we had to become relevant. My job is to choose which books to sell to our customers, and applying the same principle to digital readers . . . In terms of content, it isn't an exclusive arrangement, we are selling other digital content such as epubs. If there was another device that we thought was better than we would sell that."
Earlier in the talk, he said: “Clearly we will be selling Kindles in the autumn, which are sold by Amazon who is our deadliest foe in all other respects, hence a certain amount of disquiet among publishing colleagues and booksellers, to a much lesser degree, and the general public.” On opting with Amazon and the Kindle, Daunt said it had been a choice between other devices “which have very little traction in this country”, and developing a Waterstones’ own device, which Daunt said the company had had “a highly limited” chance of doing. He said: “Effectively we felt we had very little choice but to do this.”
“Amazon is the dominant force, it has cut a swathe and transformed our industry . . . It has a basic monopoly on digital reading and this will increase it and indeed perpetuate it and all of us have our doubts about it. In meeting our customers' needs, we felt we had very little choice but to do it.”
“Our view is that people are choosing to read digitally, our job is to sell reading and if they want to do so digitally we need to provide that to them and above all else keep bookshops relevant.”
On his biggest concern, Daunt said: "I simply have to sell enough books to pay my rent." He said selling digital books in bundles with physical editions was “nothing to do with me, the publisher chooses to sell the content by whichever means necessary”.
He said the imperative was to “remain relevant to the reader”, with anyone not achieving that to “be cut out of the industry, and will disappear.” He added, on making each Waterstones more like an independent bookshop: “I think the old model of a homogenous offering is not enough for our customer. It’s about making each Waterstones adequate for its local market.”
Also on the panel was Google head of copyright policy Simon Morrison, Nosy Crow m.d. Kate Wilson and GQ editor Dylan Jones.
Wilson, discussing the digital reading experience, said: “I have to say, I do not think I have yet seen the future of the adult fiction digital reading experience.”
Wilson said there was a “creative element and a connection element” in being in publishing today, saying: “Publishers can no longer just be a midwife to talent. That is not enough of a role for publishers. They have to earn their seat at the creative table. To be a publisher is to be a creator.”