Category Archives: W H Smith ebooks

Alas, Poor Waterstone's, I Knew Thee Well. The UK’s Biggest Bookstore Shuts The Door On Ebooks.

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The UK’s prestigious Waterstone’s bookstore chain (the British equivalent of B&N for those unfamiliar) has finally called it a day with its token ebook store, and customers have until mid-June to transition to Kobo.

I’ve been with the Waterstone’s ebook store since the beginning. It helped make one of my titles the eleventh bestselling ebook in the UK back in 2011, and while sales hardly compared to Kindle UK, they were well worth having.

That was then. In recent years Waterstone’s sales have dwindled dreadfully (to be fair possibly a reflection of my shift to children’s titles the last two years, which are generally less rewarding as ebooks) and it’s long since become clear the Waterstone’e book store had lost the will to live. Waterstone’s chief James Daunt knows a futile battle when he sees one. I’m just surprised it took this long.

It’s another notch on Amazon’s bedpost. Waterstone’s joins Sony UK, Nook UK, Txtr UK, Tesco Blinkbox and the subscription service Blloon in the Uk ebook graveyard, leaving token players like Hive, Blackwell’s and Lovereading to compete with the bigger stores.

The bigger stores being Amazon Kindle, of course, along with Apple and Google Play. In addition Kobo has both a localized UK store and a partnership with WH Smith.

The other small but significant player is Sainsbury, but no indie access to that store.

Playster is also in the UK with its subscription service. Indies can get into Playster through StreetLib and I’m expecting an announcement from Draft2Digital soon.

Future competition in this sector may come from subscription service Storytel-Mofibo (or whatever it will rename itself in the wake of the merger), and a subscription service with trad pub titles in number may well find a niche to compete with KU.

But safe to say that now, as opposed to if it had happened back in 2011, the closure of Waterstone’s ebooks will make a difference to no-one but the Waterstone’s clients who will be transferred to Kobo.

Alas, poor Waterstone’s ebooks, I knew thee well.

How well?

Back in 2011 my titles were topping the Waterstone’s e-charts and while Kindle was bringing in far more, of course, the Waterstone’s money was not to be sneezed at.

Bear in mind Kindle UK only kicked off in summer 2010 and ebooks were still a novelty and possibly a fad. In early 2011 you could top the Kindle UK charts with just 20,000 sales a month.

James Daunt only took over at Waterstone’s in May 2011, at which time the Waterstone’s ebook store (it still had a sensible apostrophe back then) was ticking over nicely. There was almost zero indies to compete with (I think Waterstone’s was Gardner’s supplied then – OverDrive came later) which meant the handful of indies that were in could do well.

Daunt took over an effectively bankrupt bookstore chain (backed by Russian money) with a token ebook store and rumour kicked off about a B&N Nook partnership. Clearly at that time Daunt was hedging his bets. He even dropped the apostrophe in the name of the store to make it more on-line-friendly.

No-one was sure what way the ebook wind would blow in the UK, but B&N’s straddling physical and digital with the Nook project seemed (back then – hindsight is a wonderful thing) as good a bet as any.

At that time the Waterstone’s store sold iRiver and Sony ebook readers and displayed them quite prominently.

Then came the surprise Kindle partnership – presumably an offer Daunt couldn’t refuse – to pre-empt the Nook partnership. Why Daunt took it is anyone’s guess, but I suspect Daunt understood the long-term conflict that B&N was later to face – that you can’t cannibalize your physical stores by promoting ebooks.

Under the original B&N model that wouldn’t have been an issue, because the ebooks and print books were all from the same supply base. No problem. Ebooks and print books sold in tandem and complemented one another.

The phenomenal rise of self-publishing tipped over that apple-cart, and instead of ebooks complementing the print titles, ebooks began to cannibalize print.

B&N exacerbated the problem with the self-pub portal, making it easier for indies to sell on the Nook platform (back then Smashwords was the only realistic alternative route into Nook).

Daunt possibly had the foresight to see that coming. After all, at least one indie in the Waterstone’s ebook store – no names mentioned – was outselling the biggest names in publishing and was the most searched for brand in store for three months solid.

I was disappointed to see the Waterstone’s ebook project effectively shelved. The store remained open, but hidden, and the Kindle partnership was never taken seriously. Kindle devices were never displayed to their best advantage and staff studiously avoided being helpful when customers asked about them.

From public statements by Daunt in the last year or so it’s clear the ebook store had dwindled to irrelevancy. He was going out of his way to belittle its impact, suggesting the revenue from ebooks wouldn’t buy a coffee at the Waterstone’s Costa coffee bar. Back in 2011 the Waterstone’s royalties I was collecting would have kept me in coffee for a year, and I drink a lot of coffee!

Even allowing for some exaggeration (de-aggeration?) by Daunt, it was clear the Waterstone’s ebook store was not pulling its weight.

How much that was market economics and the obviously powerful impact of the Kindle store, and how much deliberate policy by Daunt, is unclear.

By 2013 it was obvious Daunt had no intention of developing the Waterstone’s ebook store, and by 2015 obvious it was on borrowed time. The only surprise since is that he’s kept the Waterstone’s ebook store open this long.

I suspect Daunt has ideological as well as commercial antipathy towards ebooks, but all credit to him for turning around an all-but bankrupt bookstore chain to the pont where it’s now expanding, showing that print bookstores can thrive in the face of ebook and on-line print sales from a far bigger competitor.

Without the burden of the Nook – a valiant attempt by B&N, but one destined to fail because the two arms cannibalized instead of complementing one another – B&N might be in a far stronger position, as Waterstone’s is in the UK today.

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OverDrive And WH Smith Updates

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OverDrive

While not all of the promised 200,000+ Smashwords titles are showing in the public OverDrive catalogue, some 157,000 are, so if you are with Smashwords and opted in to the OverDrive distribution channel there’s a good chance some or all of your titles will be available.

OverDrive is the world’s biggest library supplier for digital content, not just in the US but across Europe and the UK, in Australia and New Zealand, and in places as improbable as China.

Check the site (LINK) to see if your titles are showing. And if they are, copy the links to your websites, promo packages, etc, and make sure people know! Digital libraries are big business. OverDrive alone saw over one hundred million digital downloads in 2013.

NB The Smashwords-OverDrive deal only covers OverDrive libraries, not OverDrive’s retail outlets.

W H Smith

WH Smith is the Kobo partner outlet that famously kicked out all indies last year following a scandal in the UK over some unsavoury titles appearing in the ebook store.

WH Smith is the second biggest b&m book store and the biggest newsagent and stationer in the UK. Kobo devices and the Kobo ebook store are prominently displayed in the bigger WH Smith stores, so losing the Kobo-WH Smith outlet was a blow to indies selling in Britain.

A year on and indies are back, but still filtering through. We can say with confidence more and more titles are appearing.

We still cannot say with confidence that all indie aggregators are getting titles in.

So far – and this may be pure coincidence based on our limited survey pool – we are not seeing any titles in WH Smith uploaded via Draft2Digital. Titles via Smashwords, Ebook Partnership and Kobo Writing Life are there.

Currently about 30,000 Smashwords titles are back in WH Smith. No idea how many Smashwords titles are opted in to Kobo, but guessing a lot more than that, so probably lots more to filter through.

Are D2D titles being allowed back in too? We can’t imagine why not, but as yet we have no evidence that they are. Hopefully someone out there can allay our fears and report their D2D titles are in WH Smith.

You can visit the W H Smith ebook site from outside the UK (unlike the Kobo UK site) to check if you are there. (LINK)

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Self-Published Ebooks Return To W H Smith

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A year after the British ebook retailer and high street bookseller W H Smith banned self-published titles from its cyber-shelves, we’re delighted to report indie titles are back.

It’s not clear yet what is being allowed in, as so few titles are showing, but those that are include titles uploaded direct via Kobo Writing Life and titles uploaded to Kobo through Smashwords.

As yet we are not seeing titles uploaded to Kobo via Draft 2Digital, Bookbaby and other aggregators, but that probably reflects our small sampling quota, not policy.

So far we’ve been unable to elicit a response from W H Smith or Kobo, and unless we’ve missed something there’s been no official announcement, but this is surely great news for the indie movement.

Back in late 2013, following the tabloid media drawing attention to a number of unsanitized self-published titles in the W H Smith ebook store courtesy of Kobo, both W H Smith and Kobo’s New Zealand partner store Whitcoulls closed their ebook stores, while Kobo removed all self-published titles from its catalogue.

W H Smith re-opened their ebook store with not a self-published title anywhere to be seen. Whitcoulls briefly re-opened with a small selection of self-pub titles but then closed shop completely and now do not sell ebooks at all.

Kobo allowed a curated selection of self-published ebooks back into its stores, but none were getting through to W H Smith.

Until now.

It seemed for a long while like W H Smith was just going to carry on with just trad-pubbed titles. So what made them change their mind?

Neither W H Smith nor Kobo are saying.

Originally W H Smith said self-published titles would be banned until Kobo could offer assurances about the quality of titles being put through. Are we to believe it took a full year for Kobo to meet that criteria? We think not. Kobo put its own house in order very quickly.

More likely is that W H Smith was, in the fullness of time, able to see the financial impact of having no self-published titles selling, while looking on enviously as other UK ebook retailers raked in the indie cash.

While good news, this still leaves two mainstream UK ebook stores off-limits to indie authors.

Neither Sainsbury nor Blinkbox allow self-pubbed titles, but in fairness that has more to do with their structural set-up than a policy decision to bar indies per se. Both Blinkbox and Sainsbury deal direct with the big publishers rather than go through a middleman like Kobo as W H Smith does.

Will Blinkbox and Sainsbury open up to indie titles in the future. Our guess is yes.

Sainsbury area sensible lot, and while they have the convenience of their current trad-pub set up through Anobii, they will be acutely aware of the money indie titles could be bringing in on top.

Blinkbox? Blinkbox is anyway likely to be sold off next year, as the parent company Tesco has run into serious difficulties for reasons that have nothing to do with Blinkbox. In fact all reports were that Blinkbox was (is) doing well, both with ebooks and with other digital content.

Who will buy it? No indicators of serious interest as yet, but our guess is that the Chinese titan Alibaba, the world’s biggest e-commerce operator, wouldn’t turn its nose up at the prospect.

Although there’s been no official hints we strongly suspect Alibaba will be looking closely at Barnes & Noble’s Nook, also up for grabs in the new year. A double whammy of Nook and Blinkbox, both of which Alibaba could buy out of pocket change, would give Jack Ma the leverage he needs to mount a digital content challenge to Amazon simultaneously in the US and UK.

That said, as we’ve speculated in the past, Wal-Mart are also a good bet to buy out Nook, and who knows, maybe Blinkbox is on their radar too. Wal-Mart own the UK’s Asda, a large rival supermarket chain to Tesco and Sainsbury.

Grabbing Blinkbox from Tesco and mounting a digital challenge against Amazon UK while throwing money at Nook to gain digital traction in the US would  make a lot of sense.

Both Alibaba and Wal-Mart are extremely profitable and both awash with cash right now, just at a time when their mutual rival Amazon is struggling to show any profitability at all.

Given the choice we would welcome Alibaba over Wal-Mart any day. The business ethos of Wal-Mart and Alibaba are light years apart. Will either, both, or neither take the plunge? We’ll find out next year.

Meantime let’s finish where we started. Self-published titles are back at W H Smith. Well, some. And probably the rest will follow, except maybe the erotica titles.

Are your titles in yet? You can check here. (LINK)

Is anyone seeing titles from Draft2Digital or Bookbaby getting through? Is anyone seeing self-published erotica titles getting through? Do let us know.

 

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