Waterstone’s way

I was disappointed to learn today what is becoming of Waterstone’s booksellers.

Waterstone’s may be this monstrous corporation that has truly taken over the retail market for books, making it quite difficult for any independent publisher not stopped by their shops to compete. But, when I last dealt with Waterstone’s, I was pleased to see they still had very much a local / regional focus. One bookshop in one part of town might decide not to take your book, but another one just down the road might – and it would then sell.

What has now happened is that all the buying for the chain is done through head office. This is likely to make it difficult for any publisher that the chain decides not to take – there is now little recourse available for those who want to approach the stores directly.

On one level, I can understand why they have done this: cost-saving and streamlining.

But on another, more fundamental level, I am very disappointed in them. This decision, taken only a month ago, is all the more surprising because of who became head of the chain earlier this. James Daunt, who set up one of the more successful independent book chains in London (and which is still going).

Is there no bookseller these days that is friendly to the independent publisher?

Update: In Daunt’s defence, though, I have just been speaking to a buyer of another bookshop. He says that things probably just need time to settle down at Waterstone’s, and that Daunt just needs time to sort out how things are running in the clunky business. I’m told – though haven’t yet coroborated this – that some of Waterstone’s shops do indeed have a local buyer. It’s all a bit uncertain at the moment.

Further update: This was the Telegraph’s assessment some months ago of Daunt’s appointment: “It is likely that as its new boss he will want to close stores, give power back to the staff and return the chain to its local roots, a strategy that Waterstone’s itself has been toying with to limited effect over the last year or so.” Come on James, live up to this optimistic assessment!

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