The end of an era. A new dawn. No, I am not referring to the fact that I recently got married, but rather to the fact that Waterstone’s will imminently be bringing its iconic 3 for 2 book offer to an end.
As an advocate for independent bookshops I don’t much care for Waterstone’s. I often find the staff disinterested, stock limited and mainstream, and a distinct lack of locality/personality across the different branches. I do, however, recognise the value that Waterstone’s brings to the publishing industry, so one mustn’t ignore them entirely.
Of course, since HMV sold Waterstone’s to Alexander Mamut at the end of May and James Daunt was ushered in as managing director, the publishing industry was overtaken by a kind of hushed excitement. James Daunt, you see, founded Daunt Books some 20 years ago, the success of which has seen him hailed as one of the most important figures in theUK book trade. Reportedly he actually pays booksellers a decent wage (unheard of and I talk from experience!), gives his staff responsibility regarding stock and reacts quickly to the changing market. He is also adamant that 3 for 2 devalues books and is in actual fact damaging to the book trade in the long term.
I must admit that I have on occasion succumb to the allure of 3 for 2 but rarely did I actually want all three books, I just needed them to make a saving. Of course you never quite realise that you only actually read one of the three books and hence end up paying more. Still, at times it was quite nice, for instance when the Booker Prize shortlist is announced and you can buy several of the featured books at a discounted rate. The sad truth, though, is that you could probably get the books for cheaper at Amazons anyway!
In the face of the online behemoth that is Amazon, Waterstone’s has been underperforming for some time and as the biggest book retailer left in the country any improvement can only be a good thing. Whether or not Daunt can replicate the success of his independent bookshops remains to be seen – critics argue the success is mostly down to the affluent locations of his shops. The decision to axe 3 for 2 will be the most daring decision of James Daunt’s tenure at the helm of Waterstone’s, hopefully it will be prove to be the beginning of a success story. I for one am all for it.
First posted on The Ran$om Note which covers everything from cutting edge music reviews to dog walking blogs, art, culture and new world musings.