David Blackburn in The Spectator has written an article on the demise of Waterstone’s, the biggest book retailer in the UK, but there is a bright, gleaming silver lining to the cloud:
The bell seems to be tolling for the high street bookshop. The HMV Group, which owns Waterstone’s, has issued its third straight profit warning. Waterstone’s is supposedly on target for this financial year, but 11 of its branches were forced to close across the UK and Ireland in February alone and the company has conceded that it can’t compete in the mass market. Therefore, managing director Dominic Myers has decided on a strategy that challenges readers to escape the ‘stifling homogeneity’ of Dan Brown and Katie Price. The latest campaign will push 11 exciting first time novels on a public that largely ignores new novelists.
Admirable though this plan may be, it is accompanied by the whiff of panic. It is the exact Granta-inspired business model that Tim Waterstone demolished in the early ’80s. But, given that the ruminations of a meerkat from an advert top the bestseller list, Waterstone’s has little choice but to gravitate towards quality.
This is kinda what I was getting at in this post – stores like Borders and Waterstone’s lost their edge to Amazon because all they do now is sell bestsellers that everyone has heard of, which Amazon can do better and cheaper. The advantage that bookshops have over online retailers is the allure of stumbling across something that you had no idea about whilst browsing books. When the only fiction titles on display are Twilight, Steig Larsson and Dan Brown and the non-fiction is all bright-coloured autobiographies of B-list celebrities that have been ghost-written by the same Rolling Stone journalist, you are giving away that advantage. Add to that the fact that the sales staff are 16-year-olds on minimum wage who have never read anything outside of the afore-mentioned library and you have signed your 21st-Century bookstore death warrant.
Hopefully, other stores will follow Waterstone’s and start actually looking for writing talent again. Who knows, people might actually read more (but probably not, because people are dumb).