Bookstore chains chasing the eBook market
I have mentioned in a previous blog that, as far as reading is concerned, I am a bit of an old fuddy-duddy inasmuch as I’m rather fond of those antiquated physical objects that come in either hardback or softback format, with proper pages; you know, the ones with which you fill the suitcase prior to departing for warmer climes and which are then the subject of a prolonged bartering arrangement with your wife, which typically runs along the following lines: “You are not going to read all those.” (Defiantly) “Am too.” “No you’re not. Not the Mandelson and the Blair autobiographies.” (Sulkily) “OK. But can I take a Robert Harris paperback instead of the Mandelson hardback? That leaves room for the toiletries…” Etcetera. But while I like to think of myself of the guardian of a dying tradition, the keeper of the dead tree book flame, others – many, many others – have wholeheartedly embraced the eBook revolution, to the extent that the market for eBook accessed via portable devices will exceed $3.2 billion globally this year, rising to nearly $10 billion by 2016. And – whisper it quietly – those doing the embracing are now extending to the good old bricks and mortar storefronts. It all started, of course, with Barnes & Noble: the company saw which way the wind was blowing, launched the Nook, launched apps for a variety of operating systems (to ensure that, whether you had a tablet, a smartphone or an eReader, you could still purchase from and read via B&N) and introduced a successful cross-promotional policy leveraging its physical storefronts. It now uses its retail storefronts to promote and sell the Nook, and – conversely – uses the Nook to attract new customers to Barnes & Noble: Theresa Horner, Director of Digital Products at Barnes & Noble, said in June 2011 that a ‘large percentage’ of Nook Color owners were new to Barnes & Noble. In addition, B&N is seeking to increase the connection between physical and digital by offering in-store content programmes; these allow Nook users to access exclusive digital content (such as interviews with and contributions from authors) via in-store WiFi, which is updated on a monthly basis. Once downloaded in store, the content is saved to the user’s digital locker and can be accessed at any time. Users can also browse a number of eBooks for free while in-store. The programme also includes coupons to be redeemed on purchases made within the retail store. The major bookseller chains which haven’t yet gone the way of Borders are thus hoping that a similar policy will provide them with a means of – at the very least – staying afloat: hence recent months have seen a tie-up between WH Smiths and Kobo, and Waterstone’s announcement that it too will launch an own-brand eReader in early 2012. However, B&N’s cross-platform digital approach is critical, in that in gives the company a retail and access presence on multiple devices. It can also act as a useful buffer if – as may well happen – the market for dedicated eReaders is adversely impacted by the economic downturn: even if consumers opt not to buy a Nook, they can still download the app on an iPad. Only the larger bookstore chains have the capability to engage in this kind of strategy: a sad but inevitable corollary of the transition to digital (and moreso, of the transition to eRetail) has been the decline of the independent bookstores: in the UK, store numbers fell by 15% in the 18 months ended June 2011.