Britain’s The Bookseller has run a report headlined “Waterstones is removing Kindles from stores,” declaring that the UK’s top book chain has decided to withdraw Kindles from many of its shops, with Waterstones MD James Daunt quoted as saying that “sales of Kindles continue to be pitiful.” But it merits some reading between the lines.
For one thing, in pursuit of a good headline – or possibly an agenda? – The Bookseller didn’t qualify its shout line by saying “some stores.” You might be misled, if you didn’t read too closely, into thinking that Waterstones plans to remove Kindles from all its stores. Certainly, the Daily Mail jumped to that assumption, declaring that: “Waterstones has revealed plans to scrap sales of Kindles after sales fell.” There isn’t any detail added in The Bookseller report as to how many Waterstones outlets are giving up Kindles, and how far down sales are, but obviously that didn’t hold the Daily Mail back.
Needless to say, anti-ebook pundits pounced on the news. The Bookseller quoted Douglas McCabe, CEO of Enders Analysis, saying “the e-reader may turn out to be one of the shortest-lived consumer technology categories,” and wheeled out Nielsen BookScan figures pointing to the revival of print book sales in the UK.
There might just be other reasons behind that sakes slump, though. I’m not sure about the amount of sales space and push in general given to Kindles and ereaders in Waterstones – adequate but hardly front-of-house, was my view when I visited Waterstones branches in the past. And could it be that people are just buying their Kindles elsewhere? Like online from Amazon itself? I’ve had experience myself of how fast and effective Amazon’s delivery can be in the UK. And with many other UK retailers like Argos and Currys, stocking Kindles, could buyers just be going elsewhere for their Amazon device fix?
Worst of all for Waterstones and the rest of the traditional book trade, including its media cheerleaders, The Bookseller‘s report, and to my knowledge at least, Nielsen BookScan’s figures, give no idea just how much UK print book buying traffic passes through Amazon UK’s online bookstore. Anti-ebook hysteria tends to blind most commentators to the threat posed by Amazon’s print book retail operation, and its various local rivals, to old-style book chains. There’s not much reason to believe that the US figures in Chris Meadows’s report on Amazon as an online shopping destination are too different in the UK. Not with all those sexy Prime discounts to go for.
So The Bookseller and Waterstones might just have showcased how far book chains are slipping behind in the gadget market, rather than how print is staging a comeback. I won’t be blowing the Last Post over the Kindle’s grave any time soon.