Waterstones exits ebooks and switches customers to Kobo

Leading UK bookstore Waterstones is shutting down its ebook operation on June 14 and switching customers to Kobo.

As ever in ebook library transfers, Waterstones is warning that although the vast majority of ebooks will be transferred, there may be some that Kobo will be unable to support. Waterstones recommends that all ebooks in your library should be downloaded to a device before June 13.

The company will contact its ebook customers by email on Tuesday, June 14 with a link and instructions on how to transfer ebook libraries to Kobo and the Kobo apps can then be used to read the ebooks.

Waterstones has had a fraught relationship with the ebook market. In 2012, the company, which has a chain of 290 bookshops around the UK, made a surprise move by linking up with Amazon to sell the firm’s Kindle e-readers and tablets after many people had thought it was close to signing up with Barnes & Noble to sell its Nook devices.

Managing director James Daunt called the Amazon deal an “exciting prospect” but the excitement evaporated. In January 2015, Daunt said sales of Kindles through Waterstones had “disappeared to all intents and purposes”. This didn’t come as much of a shock as in-store displays of the devices had been much reduced and consigned to less prominent areas of the shops.

The company had started to offer Sony e-readers in its branches in late 2008 and sold ebooks from the following year.

Daunt set up the highly regarded Daunt Books, which has several stores in London. He took on the Waterstones’ job in 2011 after the national chain was sold by the then ailing HMV to Russian billionaire Alexander Mamut for £53m.

Sales of print books have shown some resurgence over the last couple of years and Waterstones have opened some impressive new stores.

Shutting down the ebook operation will undoubtedly save Waterstones much needed cash, with the firm now reckoned to be somewhere around break-even after years of losses but the move pins the business’s faith firmly on a future based on print books.

Rival UK bookseller WH Smith has had its ebook store supplied by Kobo for several years but was embroiled in considerable controversy in 2013 when it ‘quarantined’ all self-published ebooks on its site after a porn scare drummed up by a newspaper on prominent display in the newsagent sections of Smith’s stores.

Kobo has been steadily picking up discarded ebook customers over the past few years, with the list including India’s Flipkart in December 2015, Sony in February 2014 and Tesco in February 2015.

Nook quit the UK ebook market earlier this year but switched its customers to supermarket Sainsburys rather than hand them to rival Kobo.