How To Lose Sales And Alienate People

I do so love my Sony e-reader, it's small, it's tough and the text display is very much like paper. With it I can sling it in my bag and have a large chunk of my library with me at any one time.

For a while it was only available in America which is where I bought mine. I then waited what seemed like an eternity for it to be released over here in the UK.

In America there is a lovely big library of books you can download electronically and until Waterstones fired up their version of the e-book library over here in the UK the only books I could (legally) read on my reader were those either in the Public Domain, or licensed under the Creative Commons license.

So I was hoping for big things from the Waterstones launch.

The Waterstones website is not as slick or intuitive as the Sony's American ebook library. To search for specific e-books as opposed to paperback or hardback formats, you need to hit the 'advanced search' button. The ebook minisite's search bar will, by default, search the whole of the site.

For an example, if you go to the Waterstones ebook site and search for 'Devil May Care', the first four results are in non-ebook formats.

But here is the main problem. I really like the works of Neal Stephenson and I've been looking forward to reading his new book 'Anathem'. I'm making an effort to buy as many new books in e-book format because they take up less space in my flat, are more portable and with the Sony e-reader, there is little difference between that screen and the printed page.

Also, downloading an ebook really does tickle the part of the monkey brain that desires instant gratification. Now waiting for the postman to drop an Amazon package through my letterbox and no need to go hunting for a copy (that may not be in stock) in physical bookshops.

But of course, 'Anathem' is not in the Waterstones e-book store.

If I were an American I could buy it from the Sony library with no problems, but because of what I assume is licensing concerns it's not available in the UK. Actually there is very little in the Waterstones library that I am interested in reading, it has quite a limited selection and as mentioned earlier the search mechanism discourages browsing.

At least I assume that it's the licensing that is the problem – It is possible that Waterstones could be purposefully limiting the number of ebooks that they 'stock' in order to determine demand. Or perhaps, for some reason, they want the e-reader to fail.

So they have a lost sale. If I weren't such a rabid fan of Stephenson's books I wouldn't now go and buy the physical object, I'd just not bother.

I quite fancied reading 'Apache', but it's not available as an e-book and I don't desire to read it enough to buy it in hardback.

One lost sale right there.

Electronic bits after all do not respect boundaries – It's how I've seen, loved and evangelised 'Burn Notice' before it's show on UK TV. It's why I make my book (and forthcoming sequel) available for download. Everyone who enjoys a book gets to appreciate the author and so will be more likely to buy other books by them.

By limiting the amount of readable material you are cutting your market. Can someone tell me how that makes sense?

It's no wonder the torrent sites are doing a fine business, to take traffic away from them the legitimate companies need to concentrate on making the user experience of getting the content as easy and painless as possible. It's the reason why I download my music from iTunes rather than bittorrent it, pure convenience and the satisfaction that comes from doing the right thing

Anyway, I've sent Waterstones an email, so I'll be interested in their reply.

32 thoughts on “How To Lose Sales And Alienate People”

  1. I thought about buying a sony reader but the price of a download (more expensive than buying a book in a supermarket) and the limited number of books avaliable put me off. I only download music I have paid for and until they sort out the e-books at a reasonable price then I'll hold off buying a reader.

  2. Fantastic, That's confirmed my choice then. A lot of the stuff I want is free stuff whitepapers etc. But I read a lot of books and want them for my big shiney gadget. Hopefully Watestones and others will wake up sooner or later and we'll be able to pay for our books just as easily as they come free.

  3. You say that you have to go to the Advanced Search section to search specifically for eBooks….. I just did that, and searched for anything by James Clavell, to find 22 results, none of which are ebooks….Nice and intuitive, then!

  4. They look at the bottom line alone, it's counterproductive miserliness.Burn Notice gives me hope, in the morass of bad TV here. I've become a huge Bruce Campbell fan because of it, even renting Army of Darkness from Netflix (a company that does do intuitive.)

  5. I bought Blood Sweat and Tea AFTER I had already read a good chunk of it for free. Now I may be a crazy minority, but if something is at a fair price, without stupid DRM (I'm talking to you EA) I will feel honour bound to support the author.Of course I may now have to buy another copy – I loaned it to the A&E Staff and I've not seen it since.

  6. Which is weird, because not only do they get the money from the selling of the Reader, but the potential for profit must be higher – it must cost less to 'stock' a database than equivalent paper books.And yes – Burn Notice – excellence from Bruce Campbell and great little stories. It's the one TV show that I torrent, I don't bother with anything else.

  7. Nope – people reading my book online who decide to buy the paper copy aren't a minority as far as a know.If you read it online and then buy the book I've made a sale, if you don't read it online and don't buy it I've not lost a sale.

    The only sale that could be a loss are people who read it online and don't buy it.

    And everyone who reads the online edition may well buy the sequel, or offer me work doing other things – and ultimately it lets me build a better relationship with the people who are interested in my stuff.

    So it all works out well, and so there has been no problem in Harper allowing the same terms for the sequel.

  8. Not to mention your e-reader weighs a fraction of what Anathem does. Thats one damned HUGE book. A shame.. I've not read any Stephenson since Diamond Age as they're all so so huge. Though, Baroque Cycle is now available as 9 smaller books apparently, so might get those one day..(He's doing a signing at Foyles on 16th Oct btw)

  9. Oh yes, there is a reason I never managed to take The Baroque cycle on holiday with me, because there would be no weight allowance left to fit in my clothes…I think I'll do a full review of the machine in short order.

  10. Hmm. I found the baroque cycle quite bad compared to cryptonomicon – actually compared to any of his books. I think it's really long and wordy and much of it doesn't actually contribute to the story, and then the end of TSotW is just a let-down. Hope Anathem will restore my faith in N.S.

  11. Apache is well worth a read! One of the few hardbacks that I've bought in recent times and treasured!I think Asda has it fairly cheaply in hardback form (under a tenner I believe).

  12. I haven't read any Stephenson since Cryptonomicon – just didn't have the time and patience to get through it all (yet).If you haven't done so already, I would recommend giving the Stephenson co-authored “Stephen Bury” books a go as well (“Cobweb” and “Interface”). I wish he'd write more like those.

    Current favourite in the genre is Richard Morgan. Top stuff…


  13. reynoldsI totally agree with your comments. I too have written to Waterstones about their poor website and also to Sony asking why I cannot purchase from the US ebook store. Waterstones have yet to reply and I sent my email on the 11th!! I pointed out to Sony, that I could buy from other US retailers (Fictionwise, EBookMall etc.,) why not Sony. They simply said that they could not comment on other retailers trading policies. In other words, a non answer.

    Bearing in mind that the US have had e books for some time, it is disappointing that Waterstones, coming along later, have not learned from the US experience. Even if they looked at W H Smiths website, I think that they could learn something.

    I fear that Waterstones will conclude that ebook sales are low and not worth bothering about,whereas the converse is true. Anyone who has invested in a Sony eReader, is a book reading enthusiast and will probably buy more books than most. So we should be supported.

  14. Ever read The Big U? Eurgh. Short, but eurgh!Zodiac is very good though.. Written pre-SnowCrash so a very sensible length.

    Hmm. Now think I need a SnowCrash re-read, which means buying a new copy as all our books are in storage!

  15. I'm glad to hear your loving the reader despite the current lack of books available. I am travelling to the US in November and am seriously thinking about picking one up (as you can also get them in blue and red now) but was slightly worried that I would need to buy a “UK” version to use the waterstones store. Have you tried buying anything from waterstones and if so does it work ok with the reader you brought in the US?

  16. According to The Bookseller's Graeme Neill, Waterstone's has roughly 7,000 ebooks on the website and aims to have 20,000 titles online by the end of the year.I agree about the website, it's a pain to look anything up on there. I know a lot of W's employees who use Amazon as a reference site instead their own company's…

    Atlantic Books published Anathem in the UK and, for some reason, they didn't make it available as an ebook. That it's available in the US, has nothing to do with this (and certainly isn't any bookshop's fault), because the US rights lie with Harper Collins.

  17. Surely someone must realise that eBooks, Sony or otherwise, are not going to become mass-market until there is a large volume of content available for them. From a personal point of view I would certainly not consider paying out the amount of cash one of these devices cost without a high degree of confidence that I will be able to buy the books I want on it.Actually I am still old fashioned enough to like paper books and have no great desire to switch, The one thing that would pursuade me to buy a reader soonish would be the ability to buy books from the USA that are not published in the UK. It looks like the current system is set up specifically to prevent that.

  18. No, you are fine – the software works off of an Adobe product which is downloaded from the Waterstones store.I've had no problem using my US reader with the UK store.

    (Of course, knowing the idiocy of some 'content providers' they may well close down this terrible, terrible loophole that threatens to destroy not only the market, but also the world)

  19. That's a bit naughty, as I'm sure I've seen 'tens of thousands' of books mentioned in their promotion…I happy to realise that the fact that Anathem isn't available in the UK is a licensing issue rather than Waterstones fault – its still a bloody stupid thing to do though on the part of the publisher.

    I mean, if it were an American only book I could, I dunno, import it physically (as I've done in the past).

    So all it means it lost sales. Which is daft in any capitalist's book.

  20. The best bet is to take the Baroque cycle in your hand luggage. Last time I flew long haul, I found that TSoTW made an excellent footrest during the flight, when I wasn't reading it. I love Neal Stephenson, and the wordier the better … *rushes off to Amazon to buy the dead tree version of his latest*

  21. This really made me stop and think about a note in Wired magazine of a founder of Pirate Bay asking someone in the US to send him a Kindle. He hints that he may be working on a project involving ebooks. It reminds me of the early days of Napster before music companies made music reasonably priced and easily accessible – it sure sounds like the same thing is happening to books.

  22. I'm looking at buying an e-reader next week, I know it comes with sony connect's dire software but can it be used without or is it similar to their mp3 players?Must admit I'm pretty excited about getting one.

  23. If you only use non-DRMed texts (however *ahem* you get them) then you can use it like a USB memory stick and add books on that way. It's how I used it with my Mac.Once you get into the whole buying of DRM texts from Waterstones, then you have to use the Adobe software, which isn't the worlds best software either.

    (I believe that the Reader's OS scans the memory/memory card when you turn it on and go to the main menu which is how it picks up new stuff).

  24. Oh… don't say that…It looks lovely and there are some interesting moves to publicise it as being a more open device.

    Now… I wonder if I could swing a review model…

    (Of course I may have to wait a fair few years before it reaches these shores).

  25. Well, technically, 'tens of thousands' means anything from 20,000 upwards… But yeah, it is a bit misleading.I guess that because Atlantic Books is an independent publisher, money is an issue when it comes to ebooks. I've not seen anything on their website about it, but of course that doesn't mean they're not working on it. Next time I see their rep, I'll ask.

    Have you checked out the Baen Free Library?

  26. And again: nothing to do with Waterstone's. If a title is not published as an ebook by the UK publisher, Waterstone's can't sell it.Also, I don't know how big W's IT department is at the moment, but when I worked in one of their stores, they were always (ALWAYS) swamped with keeping inter- and intranet, the stock system and the tills working for all the branches (including the online store). They just can't have all available titles online by pressing a button. I have a friend in IT and he regularly tells me how most people expect him to fix every problem in five minutes and it just doesn't work that way.

    Now, see what you made me do? I'm defending Waterstone's. Never thought I'd ever do that… (and without pay, too!)

  27. The comment I received from waterstones was:”As the ebooks are new, we are adding the ebooks when they become availableto Please keep checking the website, as in the near futurewe will have a wider variety of ebooks.”

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