The Waterstones/Sony Reader debacle

Posted on by Mike Evans

Sony Reader
I was on my high horse this morning following a misunderstanding with Waterstones, purveyors of eBooks to the Sony Reader. All I buy from Waterstones online are eBooks, so when I received a special 10% discount offer valid for three days I decided to stock up with books for the summer. I bought £60-worth of eBooks yesterday but was surprised to find that the discount code hadn't been applied. I complained and Waterstones have taken refuge in the small print which specifically excludes eBooks from the discount. This is disappointing, but is quite typical of the disastrous way in which Waterstones, probably Britain's largest bookstore chain, have approached the new technology.

For starters, the web site is totally confusing with eBooks mixed up with Dead Tree Books. If you start looking for eBooks you are pretty soon sent to a real book and it isn't immediately obvious that that is what it is. I want to see a web site that shows me nothing but eBooks. Secondly, the site is very slow and the checkout process is laborious and unpredictable. Often the first attempt doesn't complete and I am forced to re-enter credit card and other details. Amazon can show them the way in almost every respect. 

Finally, and probably of most importance, the software to link the downloads to the Sony Reader is shameful. The fact that it is PC only is surely unforgivable in 2009. But it is also clunky and badly designed. You must use Adobe Digital Editions to buy the books (this is a good piece of software) but then you have to transfer them to the Sony Reader. The Sony software is one of the worst-designed pieces of rubbish I have ever come across, even for a PC application. Buying books stretches the capabilities of this Macfanboy because every book has to be manually transferred from Digital Editions to the Sony. How much easier it would be if the Sony were linked to the Adobe software instead of having its own. Heaven help the technically illiterate.

I have now fired off another red-hot email to Waterstones suggesting they get their act together before Amazon arrive with the Kindle. Or, worse for them, Apple decide to add eBooks to iTunes. I still love the eBook experience and am more than ever convinced that it is the future. Podcast guru Leo Laporte has recently been heralding the collapse of newspapers and the mass market for DTBs (dead-tree books) and I think he is right. Most people now download music, DVDs and selected television programs and the High Street retailers of physical products are falling off the perch one by one. There's a future here, and that future will not include Waterstones unless they pull their collective finger out. 

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