Big British blow for B&N: Waterstones goes with Kindle

Big British blow for B&N: Waterstones goes with Kindle

The EBR (E-Book Reader) market is a lot more complicated than it might seem. It’s a war for global domination. 🙂

While Barnes & Noble has undoubtedly taken some of the market share for e-books in the US from Amazon and the Kindle (it was reportedly about 30% in April), the same isn’t true outside America.

You know what the percentage of e-book sales to British citizens that Barnes & Noble has?


If you don’t have a US credit card and a US address, you can’t buy NOOK books.

I wanted to confirm that, so I chatted with a Barnes & Noble rep. That is a nice feature they have, by the way. It’s pretty easy to chat with somebody there. You can chat with Kindle Customer Service, but it doesn’t seem as readily available.

Here’s the transcript of our chat:


19:10:57 : Bufo Calvin: Initial Question/Comment: Can you purchase books for a NOOK from Barnes & Noble when outside the USA?

19:11:02 : System: Welcome to the Barnes & Noble Chatroom.

19:11:02 : System: Rian has joined this session!

19:11:02 : System: Connected with Rian. Your Reference Number for this chat is 905756.

19:11:03 : System: Thanks for joining us.

19:11:07 : Rian: Thank you for joining Barnes and Noble Digital Chat. This is Rian and I’m happy to assist you today.

19:11:13 : Rian: Hi, Bufo.

19:11:40 : Bufo Calvin: Hi!

19:11:47 : Rian: Just to clarify, you’re asking if you can purchase eBooks for the NOOK if you are outside U.S. Is that correct?

19:12:00 : Bufo Calvin: Yes, that’s correct.

19:12:07 : Rian: Thank you.

19:12:57 : Rian: Please be advised that you can download titles from for the NOOK if you have a valid U.S. credit card and billing address saved on your B&N account even if you are outside the United States.

19:13:49 : Bufo Calvin: Okay. What if you aren’t a US customer? Could a British citizen with British credentials purchase e-books for a NOOK?

19:14:58 : Rian: As long as the above information are met, there will be no problem, Bufo.

19:15:27 : Bufo Calvin: So, if someone did not have a US credit card and a US billing address, they could not purchase NOOK books?

19:15:48 : Rian: Yes, you are correct.

19:16:12 : Bufo Calvin: That’s what I wanted to know…thanks for your help!

19:16:33 : Rian: You’re welcome.

19:16:33 : Rian: Should you need further assistance in the future, please don’t hesitate to chat with us.

19:16:43 : Rian: Thanks once again for joining the Barnes & Noble Chat.

19:16:48 : Rian: Have a great night!

19:16:53 : Bufo Calvin: You, too!


Back in January, it was being reported that Barnes & Noble might be partnering with Waterstones (formerly Waterstone’s…they dropped the apostrophe to make it easier to work with the name online, as I understand it).


That would have been a good move for Barnes & Noble.

Waterstones, founded in 1982, has literally hundreds of stores. If B&N had gotten the NOOK into those stores, it would have been a major step into the international market.

Unfortunately for them, not only did they not get it…Waterstones went with the Kindle:

Waterstones press release

To use the vernacular: “Hard cheese, Barnes & Noble.” 🙂

Not only that, Waterstones made it clear what they thought:


“The best digital readers, the Kindle family, will be married to the singular pleasures of browsing a curated bookshop. With the combination of our talents we can offer the exceptional customer proposition to which we both aspire.”
Jeff Bezos, Founder and CEO, said: “Waterstones is the premier high street bookseller and is passionate about books and readers – a dedication that we share deeply. We could never hope for a better partner to bring together digital reading and the physical bookstore.”



You might be thinking, “Hey, doesn’t Amazon already sell Kindles and Kindle books in the UK?”


That makes this doubly bad for B&N. They might have made it a fight, but Amazon decided to enter the ring from both corners. 😉

Waterstones faces challenges with their brick-and-mortar stores, of course, and I don’t know that this partnership will be enough…they were having a tough time, but did get a big influx of cash when a billionaire bought them.

In fact, last year, it was reported that Waterstones might be developing its own EBR:

Digital Spy article

I even put that prediction in the

ILMK E-Books Timeline

I’ll have to update that. 🙂

The coverage on this hasn’t all been exactly positive, especially in the UK:

Yes, I did deliberately chose negative headlines…but they weren’t hard to find. 😉

Honestly, I do think this is a major missed opportunity for B&N.

I’m curious as to what you think, especially if you are British. One angle for me: what do you think about Waterstones? Do you think of them as champions of paperbooks, or as crushers of small bookstores (or both, I suppose)? Are they the first ones you think of for a bookstore? When was the last time you were in one?

For everybody, does B&N need Britain? Could they make it there without a bookstore brick-and-mortar partner? If they don’t make it in Britain, how does taht affect their sales in the USA?

Feel free to let me know…

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.


5 Responses to “Big British blow for B&N: Waterstones goes with Kindle”

  1. Edward Boyhan Says:

    I wasn’t going to comment on this, but it led to a whole raft of miscellaneous thoughts 🙂

    First starting with BN customer support v Amazon’s — it’s my impression that Amazon also offers a chat facility — better yet they offer a call back facility: give them your phone number, and someone will call you back within 5 minutes — no waiting on hold endlessly to talk to a real human. I have used this facility several times, and have always found the Amazon rep to be knowledgeable, friendly, and (most importantly) helpful.

    As to BN — I found it amusing: you asked a question with a simple answer (“No” as it turned out), but it took them like 500 words to get there 😀

    As to all the negative headlines: I have been noticing this more and more in the mainstream technology press (and in the mainstream media as well). If the story involves a company that is large/dominant, they are invariably treated as “bad”. Now there are many problems from a business and economics sense associated with “bigness”, but many of the stories these days seem to be connecting “big” or “very successful” with “morally evil” — as if you can’t be successful without doing something “wrong”. Maybe it’s my age, but I’m finding this tendency disturbing.

    It is particularly ironic in the case of Waterstones. You mentioned that it is a British company, but my Swiss cheese addled brain had a recollection of them having a store in back bay Boston. I did some research: they did — it has subsequently closed — it was a nice large four-storied affair as I recall. Of more import Waterstones has fallen on hard times, and has had several changes ownership. It’s current owner (get this) is a Russian Oligarch named Alexander Mamut. The press is all worried about big bad Amazon swallowing poor little Waterstones, which is owned by a guy who was implicated some years back in a money laundering scheme at the Bank of New York 😀 .

    BTW this Mamut guy ranks 601 on Forbes global list of billionaires (there are 1153 of them in case you’re interested). Jeff Bezos is number 26 on this list, but he better watch out: in the last two years Mamut has gone from #960 to 601.

    I have to wonder what rose colored glasses the British press are wearing these days :D.

    As to BN’s fortunes, I had two thoughts: the first was that MS has a wide international presence, and that perhaps their new relationship could provide entree to foreign shores. Upon reflection that is not a good idea: MS has almost zero experience with direct retail — the few places on their web sites where you can actually buy something from them (instead of being shuffled off to a partner) are quite primitive in comparison with Amazon (or even BN for that matter).

    My second thought involves BN’s large network of retail stores which are widely regarded as a millstone that much be trimmed back, or spun off. Perhaps a better approach would be to close half, and use those remaining to become joint MS/BN retail stores. MS has been slowly opening retail stores to compete with Apple’s, and they actually do offer an interesting selection of products and services. Combine that with BN’s in store Nook kiosks, and new EBR/tablet offerings expected from the MS/BN lashup — who knows what might result :D.,

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Edward!

      Good detail, as always. 🙂

      Yes, I knew who Mamut was…I didn’t make a point of the billionaire’s nationality, but I said:

      “Waterstones faces challenges with their brick-and-mortar stores, of course, and I don’t know that this partnership will be enough…they were having a tough time, but did get a big influx of cash when a billionaire bought them.”

      That’s part of why I was curious what my British readers thought…if they think of Waterstones as part of traditional bookselling or not.

      The idea that Microsoft invested in B&N to get brick-and-mortar stores to challenge the Apple stores is interesting…although, they did require a separation of those B&M B&N’s 😉 before investing.

    • Edward Boyhan Says:

      I forgot to mention that Waterstons already sells ebooks on their website. The format is listed as: EPUB DRM. The prices listed (after converting pounds to $) seem high — at least US agency pricing levels — and in quite a few cases even higher.

      I didn’t mean to imply that MS did the BN deal to get access to the store network — I’m pretty sure that hasn’t entered anyone’s head. It was just my attempt at thinking outside the box — everyone seems to assume that the BN stores must go. The impetus for my thought came from a Walt Mossberg article in the WSJ about “signature” PCs being sold by MS in their retail stores. Signature PC’s are systems from Dell, Lenovo, HP, etc sold at prices equal to or better than the if you got the systems from the vendor direct. MS’S idea was that since they know more about the Windows environment than anyone else, they would do the S/W configuration themselves — adding pleasing personalizations, and feature customizations that would improve performance — especially boot times. They would also come sans the “crapware” installed by most H/W vendors. MS also would “signaturize” any PC you already owned (if you brought the PC to a physical MS store) for $99.

      The story was picked up by the technical press and largely panned — thinking that “signature” PCs were $99 more expensive than if you bought direct (an example of the anti-big bias I was talking about above) — and that somehow MS was asking you to pay an extra $99 for Windows which you had already paid for. Lastly, they said it was a meaningless offer because most people don’t live anywhere near an MS retail store. Mossberg, a noted Apple partisan, actually thoght the “signature” PCs were a good idea, but noted the lack of MS retail presence v Apple. My thought was addressing a way to rapidly expand the MS retail network — not that I think it will actually come to pass 😀

  2. Lourenco Says:

    Hi Bufo. Great post, as always.

    I have had a good experience chatting with the Kindle Customer Service. It was readily avaible and I spent like one and a half hours talking to an Amazon~s representative, and my problem was finally solved.
    I would not assume it~s always like that, but for me, the Chat worked pretty well.
    Cheers from Brazil!

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Lourenco!

      That’s great to hear!

      It appears that the Amazon chat is inconsistently available, and may be influenced by the type of question you are posing. I’ve asked my fellow Kindle Forum Pros about that, and that’s the feedback I’m getting.

      If I knew it was there all the time for all questions, I’d promote it more.

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