Shoppers on Waterstones.com have downloaded more than one million e-books, contributing to what owners the HMV Group describe as an “excellent start” to the line of business.
HMV Group said 30,000 e-book titles were currently available on Waterstones.com but that sales were expected to grow fast as publishers expanded the list. Beyond this bright spot, however, Waterstone’s financial results were the one area of disappointment in the business, said chairman Robert Swannell, with like-for-like sales down by 6.2%. The bookseller is expected to benefit, however, from last year's demise of rival Borders.
The update came as HMV Group released its full-year results for the year to April 24. Total sales grew by 3.1% in the year, but like-for-like HMV sales in the UK and Ireland fell by 2.4% while Waterstones’ were down by 6.2%.
Growth came instead from new areas of business, including HMV’s investments in live music, predicted to be the fast-growing section of the music business in coming years, including in the live venue business MAMA Group, as well as Waterstone’s e-books line.
The year brought to an end HMV Group’s three-year turnaround programme, aimed to transform it, in the words of its chairman, from a “one-dimensional retailer to a broader entertainment brand”.
Profits before tax and exceptional items rose by 17.7% to £74.2m, from £63.0m the previous year.
Chief executive Simon Fox said: “The group's full year performance was pleasing, with record sales and a 17.7% increase in profits, driven by a strong performance at HMV UK, as we continue to transform this business into a broad-based entertainment brand.
"Whilst at an early stage, the three pillars of our new strategy to continue to evolve HMV's product mix, grow in live and ticketing and turn around Waterstone's are progressing on track, as we continue to position the group for the changes that are taking place in our markets."
Our view: There's long been debate about what happens to high street booksellers and record shops in the age of digital and e-commerce. And the latest results from HMV Group serve to underline the fact that Waterstone's and HMV are now the only major national store chains in their respective fields left in the market. Elsewhere on the high street, books are sold through supermarkets and small independents, while online giants such as Amazon grow and grow. Now, however, it seems their sole status may be the key to safeguarding their future, while diversification and digital innovation such as e-books is also helping them on the way.
As an aside, we noticed the development that Amazon, which started out, of course, as a bookseller, is now selling groceries from its German site. In-bulk groceries have been a staple of the site for years in the US, and there were plans to launch a similar offering in the UK as far back as last year. As yet it hasn't happened - we wonder why not - and whether it would suit British tastes?