Yesterday I wrote a post that was generally favourable to the deal between Amazon and Waterstones:
If I was to think of one single reason for the move being a good though I would say it is this, it allows Waterstones to stand still and observe for a little longer. The value of inaction is often underestimated and right now when the ebook retail and distribution space is changing rapidly and requires such a huge investment, this move brings revenue, options but most crucially of all, time to just see what happens while rebuilding the core bookselling business.
I still think the above holds true. One major issue has begun to loom larger in my thinking though, and that is the impact of Waterstones dedicated heavy readers converting to dedicated digital readers on Amazon’s platform. The sales those dedicated heavy readers drove will be lost to Waterstones.
That brings me to the issue of lock in and whether, in the new ebook world, it exists in any real sense. The truth is that it does in a modest form, but without doubt it is relatively easy to move away from any individual content silo or platform to any other platform because unlike music, which we listen to repeatedly, we only occasionally re-read the books we buy once we have have read them for a first time.
So the fear of lock in is a misplaced one in my view. As publishers see sense (which I think they will) and move away from DRM systems an ever greater interplay of retailers and devices in the ebook space will be enabled and lock-in will be even less important.
That means it might even be possible for Waterstones to re-gain its lost heavy readers at some point in the future. No doubt the company hopes that the short- to medium-term play it has gambled on with Amazon pays off and enables them to refurbish and revitalise their physical estate and in doing so regain customers, rebuild profitability and take charge of their own future when they have done that.
I still think the logic of this move works, if they CAN make the print side of the business more profitable, more slimline and more flexible. Otherwise, we will look back in five years and it will look like a huge mistake. It’s a big gamble, but I think it’s worth it.