Swallowed by Amazon: is selling the Kindle a good idea for Waterstones?

Kindle touch
Amazon's Kindle: coming to a Waterstones near you

Imagine there's a serial killer at the door. He's already killed and eaten the rest of the street, and now he fancies getting his gums on your bum. Do you (a) grab as many sharp things as you can to fight him off, or (b) invite him in but make him promise he'll only eat one toe?

If you're Waterstones, the answer appears to be (b).

To fight off the Kindle, the venerable bookseller is going to be, er, selling Kindles.

Waterstones promises that you will get "the singular pleasures of browsing a curated bookshop". That sounds awfully like a Waterstones-branded Kindle Store, which would be little more than glorified affiliate marketing. Or maybe there'll be a wee chair in every Waterstones that you can sit in with your Kindle as you order a copy directly from Amazon, with Waterstones getting a tiny wee cut of the purchase price in exchange for providing the chair and the Wi-Fi. Maybe, as @missdaisyfrost says on Twitter, "Waterstones will be offering 3 Kindles for the price of 2".

Waterstones' original plan was to make its own ereader, something many of us thought would be a rebranded Barnes & Noble Nook. That plan has been shelved, probably because Waterstones has left it too late and stuck with Sony for too long. The Kindle Store is the iTunes of digital reading, accounting for the lion's share of the market while a handful of rivals fight over scraps, and it's hard to imagine Waterstones making any kind of dent in that market dominance now.

A rival ereader, then, was probably a dumb move. But Kindles?

Short-term profit over long-term sense

I suspect Waterstones' take goes something like this: Amazon's currently selling loads of ebooks, and Waterstones isn't. Getting some Kindle money would be better than nothing.

I'm sure that's true - in the short term. But in the long term it's effectively handing over Waterstones' ebook business to Amazon — a firm Waterstones boss James Daunt called "a ruthless, money-making devil, the consumer's enemy" just six months ago — by turning its branches into Amazon showrooms.

The last bookselling chain that climbed into bed with Amazon was Borders. You know, Borders. Big shops? Went bust?

I hope I'm wrong, but I fear this story won't have a happy ending.

Carrie Marshall

Writer, broadcaster, musician and kitchen gadget obsessive Carrie Marshall has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to all kinds of magazines and websites as well as writing more than a dozen books. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, is on sale now and her next book, about pop music, is out in 2025. She is the singer in Glaswegian rock band Unquiet Mind.