When it started, Waterstone's was a breath of fresh air. But as it got ever bigger, many say it lost its soul. What effect has that had on publishing?
Stuart Jeffries,The Guardian, Tuesday 10 November 2009
Staff arrange a promotion for Dan Brown's latest book at Waterstone's Piccadilly branch. Photograph: John Phillips/UK Press/Press Association Images
In the Bloomsbury branch of Waterstone's, I am trying to find a quiet seat to read Tacitus's account of Seneca's suicide when I come across something more diverting. A customer is asking an assistant to explain the baffling price deal on Hilary Mantel's Booker-winning novel Wolf Hall.
"I'm confused," she says. "It says here that if I spend more than £10 I can have the book for £8.99." That would be a good deal: the recommended retail price (RRP) for the hardback is £18.99. But there is a problem. "I only want to buy this book and nothing else. Does that mean I'll have to pay the full price, £18.99?"
"I wish they wouldn't do that," the assistant says. "They shouldn't have deals that are so confusing it takes more than a minute to explain."
But Waterstone's does. The sticker on Wolf Hall's dustjacket offers a half-price discount only if you buy something else too. The assistant explains that if the customer only buys the Mantel today, she would get £5 off the recommended price (ie she would pay £13.99). "But there's nothing on the book to tell you that." "That's right," says the assistant, with a disarming I-only-work-here-and-the-bosses-need-shooting tone. "Oh," says the customer. "I don't know what to do now."
I tell the customer, a lecturer from London University's School of Oriental and African Studies, she could have bought Wolf Hall from Amazon or from Waterstone's website for £8.45. "Yes," she replies, "but two words: postal strike. And even if I had ordered it online, I'd have had to pay postage and I don't know how much that is." Exasperated, she decides to leave without the book.
Such – or so you might think – is the nature of late capitalism. It makes buying the most straightforward item such a nightmare that you leave the shop having saved yourself a tenner, but in the process a nice lunchtime excursion has become a frustrating fiasco.Read the full Guardian story online.