EASONS and Hodge Figgis will soon begin offering rival devices to buy e-books, it emerged yesterday.
UK-based Waterstones said yesterday that it would set up dedicated Amazon e-book selling areas in its four Irish bookstores, including the flagship Hodges Figgis store in Dublin's Dawson Street.
In a move which surprised observers in the UK, Waterstones managing director James Daunt announced the deal with Amazon as being "as good as the Kindle -- because it is Kindle".
Mr Daunt, who along with the rest of the traditional book retail industry has long regarded Amazon as a potential nemesis, just months ago labelled the company "a ruthless, money-making devil".
Waterstones' Irish outlets will be rolling out Apple Store-style Kindle areas and offering free wi-fi to enable customers to download books from Amazon.
"Our plans are to launch in all Waterstones this autumn and that includes Ireland, where we have Hodges Figgis and our stores in DCU, Cork and Drogheda. More details will be revealed closer to the launch," Waterstones executive Jon Howells said yesterday.
Meantime, Jeff Bezos, Amazon.com founder and CEO, said: "Waterstones is the premier high-street bookseller and is passionate about books and readers -- a dedication that we share deeply. We could never hope for a better partner to bring together digital reading and the physical bookstore."
Ireland's largest book retailer, Easons, revealed plans yesterday to enter the market as well. "We are not getting into bed with Amazon, that is for certain," a spokesman said.
"But as part of a €20m plan to modernise our entire chain, we will be providing live wi-fi in our stores from this summer and dedicated e-book areas which will permit customers to download e-books from our website. The next phase of this process is to launch our own Easons branded e-reader."
This means that the Irish market leader will follow in the steps of the US market leader, Barnes and Noble, which has already developed its own digital reading device to rival the Amazon one.
There is a growing perception in both traditional and online book industries that traditional stores can benefit from e-book sales and vice versa using the successful Apple Store model which sees high-street buyers walking into shops to acquire online products in a shop where advice is available.
While Amazon gets business online, its model is hard to promote offline and it may now see the benefit of a Waterstones-style outlet. The chain is well known for its staff advice to customers and its review system whereby staff members recommend books to customers.