Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Do bookshops have a future?
Stocky and bald, with a preference for the Cameron-esque suit-but-no-tie sartorial combo, the managing director of Waterstone's also does a fine line in Cameron-esque soundbites. One evening last summer, he ascended the stairs in the bookshop chain's High Street Kensington branch to toast the first part of his plan to, as he put it, "refresh the brand".
Among the assembled canapé-munchers were bestselling authors, leading publishers, a couple of journalists who'd heard there might be free champagne (there was), and – skulking behind the staircase – Waterstone's founder, Tim Waterstone. The High Street Ken store, Myers explained, was the flagship in a fleet of 20 Waterstone's branches to which the company had returned some measure of autonomy: the power to tailor its own local stock offering; to choose which titles to recommend and display prominently; to give customers more space to sit or browse, without tripping over steaming piles of Dan Brown.
Waterstone's is still owned by the HMV group, which has issued three profit warnings since September, and next month expects to announce a year-end net debt of more than £130m. Before Myers' appointment, the chain's aggressive approach to competing with Amazon and Tesco had sowed resentment among publishers and previously loyal customers alike. People who had once frequented the poetry section were unimpressed by the prevalence of heavily discounted blockbuster cookbooks, airport thrillers and Katie Price autobiographies.
But perhaps, just perhaps, behind the new boss's re-designed logo lurks a real change in the way the country's sole surviving major bookshop chain does business. When he took the helm, Myers rightly cited "stifling homogeneity" as a source of his company's ills. Its financial woes are forcing Waterstone's, however tentatively, to return to what made it so popular in the first place: knowledgeable staff, hospitable stores, and a love of literary fiction with popular potential.
Full story at The Independent.