Tag Archives: Waterstone’s

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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British Indie Authors Hit The # 1 Spot On Amazon China

Go Global In 2014

Regular readers will need no reminding how often we say the global ebook market is a golden opportunity right now, for those indies willing to step outside the box, leave the comfort zone of the home market, and embrace the opportunities laid at our feet by the digital revolution.

As we constantly stress, no-one can be everywhere, and no-one can do everything, but for the savvy author willing to take the long term view and work the global markets alongside the domestic ones there’s an open goal out there.

We repeatedly advocate indies to walk away from the us-and-them divide that creates an artificial  literary apartheid between indies and trad-pub, and for indies to partner with “local” publishers in overseas markets to maximise their reach.

Ana as we’ve also often said here, it’s just a matter of time before some western indie breaks out in a foreign land and becomes an in-store chart-buster in the bigger nascent markets.

That time has come.

Number One China!!!

This week the British writing partnership of Mark Williams and Sarah Griffiths, writing together as “Saffina Desforges”, took the number one spot on Amazon’s Kindle China site. The Chinese translation of their British blockbuster hit Sugar & Spice bumped such inscrutable names as JK Rowling/Robert Galbraith along the way.

The book has previously topped the charts in France in 2013, and before that on Amazon UK and Waterstone’s in 2011, when it was not only the biggest selling indie title but the eleventh best-selling ebook in the country.

Now they’ve conquered China, and have India, Indonesia and the rest of the world in their sights.

A UK or US publisher behind them? In fact the book that has sold a quarter million copies in the UK alone was rejected by every major British and American publisher.

Innovative publishers in France and China, who both approached the authors, took a different view, and have both been rewarded handsomely.

Unsurprisingly, many indie author don’t even know there is a Kindle China store. Kindle China is not run as part of KDP (you won’t find even a hint of the Chinese Kindle store in your KDP dashboard) and while some KDP titles do appear there, most don’t. No, we have no idea why.

How big is Kindle China? That’s another unknown.

The Chinese ebook market is often said to be the second biggest after the US. That seems very likely given the population in China and the doubted interest in ebooks, but most observers accept the Kindle China store is not one of the major players. The largest store is believed to be JD.

Neither Apple, Google Play nor Kobo have an ebook presence in China (unless you count Hong Kong and Taiwan) and Amazon of course keeps its numbers to itself, but we are reliably informed the #1 spot on Kindle China typically turns over around 2,000 sales a day.

Not to be sneezed at. But before jumping to conclusions about the size of the Chinese ebook market bear in mind both JD and Douban are probably much bigger than Kindle CN.

And needless to say the Saffina Desforges authors, because they follow closely the advice we give here on the EBUK blog, not just on Kindle China. Thanks to their Chinese publisher they are also riding high in the charts on China’s biggest ebook store, JD, and on rival stores like Douban.

No, they’re not getting 70% (if Kindle China even pays that much), or anywhere near.

But as we say here often, x-percent of something is a thousand times better than 100% of nothing, and making headway as a fanatical indie in a market as alien as China is a road to despair. China is one of the hardest markets to access as a western self-published author, although as we’ve explored in previous posts, the demand for English-language books in China is high. (LINK)

Which is why we strongly advocate partnerships with overseas publishers or overseas translators.

A good “local” publisher (be aware there are good and bad, just like back home – do your homework!) will have good relations with local retailers and have a full distribution arrangement. And of course they’ll get the best possible translation done.

Alternatively, partner with a translator on a percentage basis. Yes, you can pay up front and get a translation done yourself and pocket all the proceeds from sales. But unless you are then able to market and distribute effectively in that foreign land and in that foreign language then it’s unlikely you will see many returns on your investment.

Paying a translator a percentage per sale to distribute and market the book gives them an incentive to not just do the best possible translation but also to do their utmost to see the book succeed afterwards.

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 Here at EBUK our blog posts often meet with the response, “But I haven’t time,” “it’s all too much effort” and “the nascent markets are pie in the sky – I want to see statistics and proof that these markets will deliver”.

Yes, but we somehow find time to write that book to the best of our ability, edit it, proof it, format it, cover it and distribute it to the domestic retailers, all of which takes months or even years. Why do we then baulk at adding a few more hours to maximise our global reach?

As for waiting for proof the nascent markets can deliver… Do be serious.

Here’s the thing: The US was a nascent market in 2009-10.

Imagine if John Locke, Amanda Hocking, Joe Konrath et al had sat on the fence and waited until there was firm evidence Kindle US and Apple US and Nook were going to pay off before they put their books out.

The UK market was nascent in 2010-11. Imagine if the Saffina Desforges partnership or the hugely successful partnership of Mark Edwards and Louise Voss has sat back and waited until there was firm evidence the UK market could deliver.

It’s exactly the same with the global markets now at the nascent stage.

Wake up and smell the coffee!

We are the luckiest generation of writers ever to have lived! We are not just witnesses to, but participants in, a global New Renaissance quite unprecedented in human history.

Yet many of us are still partying like it’s 2009.

Indonesia? India? China? Here at EBUK we’ve identified these countries as the most exciting prospects on the planet for authors, yet we’re being told it’s pie in the sky. No western author and their western books with western setting and western characters are going to sell well in these countries, no matter how well translated. You’d have to be JK Rowling or Stephen King to even get noticed.

Really? Then how did a translation of a British crime novel, set in the UK, that has neither a UK nor a US publisher behind it, hit the number one spot on Amazon’s Kindle China store this week?

Back in 2009-11 windows of opportunity were few and far between.

As 2014 draws to a close there are more windows of opportunity open than at any time. But windows of opportunity don’t stay open forever.

As we enter 2015, how many windows of opportunity will you be looking through?

 

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