Bookseller Waterstones has announced a commercial agreement with online retailer Amazon which will see Kindle e-readers sold in its high street stores and the launch of new digital services.
The deal has come as a surprise to many industry monitors, as the managing director of Waterstones, James Daunt, has previously levelled public criticism at Amazon. In an interview with national newspaper the Independent in December 2011, he described the company as "a ruthless, money-making devil".
In the same interview, he stated that Waterstones was inventing its own e-reader and hoped to follow the approach taken by Barnes & Noble. The leading US bookseller has an e-reader business named Nook, into which Microsoft invested $300m (£185m) earlier this month.
The news that Waterstones is now to join forces with Amazon follows a year of strong trading for e-reading, with statistics from the Publishers Association showing that during 2011 consumers spent nearly £250m on e-books, compared with £157m in 2010. Mr Daunt has predicted that 25 per cent of all books sold will be e-books by 2014, compared with around 10 per cent at present.
Better digital reading experience
"It is a truly exciting prospect to harness the respective strengths of Waterstones and Amazon to provide a dramatically better digital reading experience for our customers," said Mr Daunt.
"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."
Waterstones - which famously removed the possessive apostrophe from its name earlier this year; another controversial decision by Daunt - also plans to introduce free Wi-Fi and digital areas within its stores.
Richard Frost, managing editor of theEword, said: "Waterstones has clearly decided that to remain competitive, it must step further into the digital world and work with technological successes like Amazon instead of against them. Amazon will also benefit, as the Waterstones brand is well-respected and has the potential to introduce millions of readers to Kindle products."