I’ve been thinking a lot more about how the Waterstone’s deal might play out and I’ll post some further thoughts on it over the coming days. The more I reflect the more I think the brand question is absolutely crucial. How it is answered must determine the size and shape of any future Waterstone’s because I’m not sure how I can see the reverse strategy working out well. Waterstone’s has been allowing its size to determine its strategy for over a decade and all it has achieved is a contorted business model unable to go forward or back. More stock and autonomy, are just not going to cut it on their own.
All the while of course, the deeper danger looms. A friend recently recounted a theory to me that booksellers are often by nature small c conservatives; the idea being that the urge to curate and preserve is very handy in creating a range-holding bookshop. As far as traditional bookshops go he might be right. If he is, how will this equip them to fight those who don’t look at the world from that perspective?
Contrast the Waterstone’s news with the latest game-changer from Amazon, summed up very neatly by Mike Shatzkin.
This would seem to me to be the very opposite of conservative; a bold Jacobin stroke that seeks to further rewrite all the rules regarding the publishing/bookselling ecosystem. Waterstones is hoping to preserve its existence within that ecosystem. Their ability to succeed will depend as much on Amazon’s failure to change the rules as their own ability to create a winning business model.
It remains to be seen how this will develop but my instinct tells me that while UK publishers will be willing Daunt to succeed at Waterstone’s, the smart money will be spent ensuring that there are many other ways to reach readers.
(Thinking about Amazon’s move reminded me of this clip from Independence Day)