Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Retailers Are Stepping Up to the Digital World

The news that Barnes & Noble is back in the digital ebook business is no great shock, nor one that is likely to be a repeat of its last entry and exit. Our ‘Brave New World’ report clearly put down the case for retailers to play a major roll in ebooks and digital sales and today, 3 years on, the shoots of our findings are starting to be seen. In the UK Waterstones went with an exclusive Sony deal and have now been joined by more open offers from Borders UK and Blackwell and will soon be joined by many others. In Australia Dymocks have long championed their offer. So the return of B&N is both welcome and a sensible move.

We can ignore the public posturing of ‘my repository is bigger than yours’ this is just mere schoolyard bragging that when stripped down soon becomes irrelevant. However, we can’t ignore the acquisition of Fictionwise, nor the market strength and brand that Barnes and Noble now reintroduces to the market. Will the offer dethrone Amazon – unlikely? Will it increase the battles over ebook pricing – almost certainly? Will it make more publishers create ebooks – almost certainly? Will the impact be restricted to the US – no?

What is certain is that consumers will want choice of what the buy and where they buy it. With offers from Barnes and Noble, Borders and Amazon will US consumers seriously select a device that restricts choice and one which shot itself in the foot last week with its Orwellian actions? Do publishers really believe that they can make the step change from producer to retailer and offer both range and depth? Some will succeed but many will realise what their core strengths are and that retail may not be one of them.

What is clear is that ebooks will go global and geographic restrictions on devices, their support or exclusive deals are not the way forward. It is perfectly feasible today for all retailers to participate and to sell physical alongside digital. The more retailers that take up the challenge, the healthier and more diverse the market and the offer will be. Retailers do not need a reader device or to buy a Fictionwise, or to strike up an exclusive deal, or even to set up a complex technical infrastructure, they just need to offer the consumer what they want , at the right time and at the right price – no different than today. They need to have one that offers physical and digital side by side in a single basket, one that is technologically inclusive not exclusive, one that fully exploits digital marketing and promotion and many will be surprise to find a more level playing field than they think.

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