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Publishing News: Amazon gets a brick-and-mortar bookstore, sort of

Waterstones and Amazon team up, Google's battle with newspapers continues, and the Big Six to become the Big Five?

Here are a few stories from the publishing space that caught my attention this week.

U.K. bookstore teams up with Amazon

Charlotte Williams and Lisa Campbell report this week at The Bookseller that Waterstones bookstore in the U.K. launched its Amazon Kindle promotion, wherein customers can purchase a Kindle, Kindle Fire, Kindle Fire HD, or (by the end of the month) a Kindle Paperwhite in their brick-and-mortar stores. Williams and Campbell report that the point-of-sale slogan reads in part: “There are two sides to every story. With books and now Kindle you can enjoy both at Waterstones.”

In an interview with Leo Kelion at the BBC, Waterstones’ managing director James Daunt defends the move against critics who declare he’s signed the bookstore’s death warrant, saying he’s not a “moron” and indicating (without specifics) that the store is making money off the deal. Daunt also argues that you have to look at the bigger picture:

“All that we have to do is encourage people to come into our shops and to choose the books. I don’t frankly care how they then consume then, or read them, or indeed buy them. But if you spend time in my shops, and you really enjoy it, and you come back more often and spend longer, you’re going to spend money in my shops.”

Though Kelion calls the move “a twist no one saw coming,” someone did see this coming — a bookseller, in fact. In a Q&A following The Kepler’s 2020: Building the Community Bookstore of the 21st Century session at TOC 2012, Kepler’s 2020 project leader Praveen Madan said:

“[Ebooks are] something we want to provide; we want to be part of the overall experience. But the solution and the technology has to come from somebody else. I’m very serious about looking at [partnering with] Amazon and just giving away Kindles and telling people it’s okay — you have our permission. Walk into the bookstore, browse the books and download the books on your Kindle.”

Google’s relationship with newspapers around the world grew ever-more contentious this week. In France, Google responded to proposed legislation that would require search engines to share advertising revenue from news searches. A report at France 24 states that Google “warned it would exclude French media sites from its search results if France adopts [the] law forcing search engines to pay for content.” According to the report, Google directs four billion clicks each month toward French media websites.

Relations also heated up in Brazil, where newspapers made the first move. Robert Andrews reports at PaidContent: “All 154 members of the Association of Newspapers in Brazil (ANJ), comprising 90 percent of the country’s newspaper circulation, recently opted out of Google News, claiming the search firm should pay them to re-run their headlines and excerpts.”

As Jessica Leber reports at MIT Technology Review, these latest developments occur on the heels of German authorities approving a new web copyright law empowering publishers to charge for content excerpts appearing in search results, and similar issues in Belgium last year.

According to the report at France 24, Google claims laws requiring them to pay for content would “threaten [their] very existence” and that such laws “would be harmful to the Internet, Internet users and news websites that benefit from substantial traffic” directed by Google.

And then there were five?

Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson and Gerrit Wiesmann report at the Financial Times this week that Penguin and Random House are in deal talks to combine their publishing divisions, which effectively would make the Big Six the Big Five. Edgecliffe-Johnson and Wiesmann describe the negotiations:

“Discussions have focused on a tie-up in which Bertelsmann [parent company of Random House] would have a stake of more than 50 per cent, according to several people familiar with the negotiations, who warned that several issues were unresolved and talks could still fall apart.”

The possibility of a merger certainly doesn’t come as a surprise to industry analysts — Hugh McGuire (and others) have been predicting the Big Six will become the Big Two or Big Three for some time. Laura Hazard Owen at PaidContent says the surprise might be which publishers are first to make the consolidation move. She writes: “It has seemed much more likely that HarperCollins or Simon & Schuster would be sold (which is of course still a possibility), since neither News Corp nor CBS places a high priority on book publishing and News Corp is spinning off its publishing and educational assets.”

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