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Waterstone's Ditches Amazon

Jason Lee Miller
Staff Writer
Published: 2006-05-10

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British book chain Waterstone's has discovered this Internet thing may catch on. That discovery seems to come as parent HMV noticed Amazon poaching their profits by managing the store's online presence. Five years of lost commission later, Waterstone's will be launching its own website this fall.

With low expectations of the e-commerce world, the book chain signed up with Amazon in 2001 as a channel to sell its specialty books online, declining to set up its own website. Realizing the store was losing potential customers, and with brick-and-mortar sales declining, Waterstone's released Amazon from its stewardship when contract renewal time arrived.

The chain's initial site, www.waterstone.co.uk was set up 1996 and redirected to Amazon in 2001. Executives for Waterstone's have been cordial in their words about the decision:

"Waterstone's has been undertaking a strategic review of its internet activities for some time and we have concluded that the time is now right to launch its own online service." said Waterstone's Managing Director, Gerry Johnson. "The relationship has served Waterstone's well for several years and we have been very pleased with the level of service and support their solution has provided"

A spokesperson for HMV Group, though, was more specific for the reasoning behind it, blaming an "underdeveloped" market when the deal was struck. From ZDNet:

"Internet book retailing was only five percent of total book sales in the UK, and it looked at that time as though the market would probably grow to 10 percent in total, and we took the view at that time that it was a subset more appropriate for a national monopoly such as Amazon."

Barker said the market is now around 11 or 12 percent, which means it's time to steer the ship yourself. Waterstone's new website will aim to create a community for booklovers offering over 3 million titles to visitors. Waterstone's also plans to offer video streaming of book signing events, "author insights," a "try before you buy" feature, and personal shopping services.

Waterstone's founder, Tim Waterstone, came near to taking over controlling interest in book chain, making a 280 million pound ($520 million) proposal. Waterstone had to withdraw his offer after a key financial backer pulled its support.

The bookseller's only online presence is through Amazon right now, except for a Brussels, Belgium branch's minimalist website. Waterstone's flagship branch is on Piccadilly in London, and boasts being the biggest bookshop in Europe.

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About the Author:
Jason L. Miller is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business.

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