Monday, May 21, 2012

Waterstones boss poised to join the e-reader battle

Bookseller James Daunt remains upbeat about traditional books even as he plots a digital revolution
James Daunt of Waterstones: 'We'll be different from Amazon – and better.' Photograph: Katherine Rose for the Observer

When you consider the prospects for literature in the age of the ebook, just four names seem to dominate the digital future: Amazon, Apple, Google and Microsoft. These American west coast giants, founded respectively in 1994, 1976, 1998 and 1975, are locked in a battle for audiences whose outcome no sensible person could predict. The future looks digital, but traditional books and booksellers still play an important role, possibly thanks to the war between these behemoths.
Last month, Microsoft challenged both Apple and Amazon with a $300m investment in Barnes & Noble, a stake in the digital operations of the world's largest bricks-and-mortar book chain to exploit and develop the Nook (the B&N e-reader) in direct opposition to the Kindle. Game on! And also an extraordinary reversal. Scarcely a year ago, industry analysts were suggesting that Barnes & Noble was doomed to follow another giant book chain, Borders, into administration.
Traditional bookselling, in other words, has more life left in it than meets the eye. In the UK, one bookseller who holds this view, James Daunt of Waterstones, is a retailer for whom the glass is distinctly half full. I sat down with him a few days ago to review the situation.
Daunt, approaching 50, has described Amazon as "a ruthless money-making devil". In private, he's less incendiary than steely, a rather clinical Cambridge-educated history graduate who had several years as a banker at JP Morgan before launching his eponymous London bookstore in 1990.
Read McCrum's full piece here.

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