Thursday, 15 March 2007

Waterstone's, a British bookshop chain, is set to lose "up to 30" shops, according to The Guardian. And its remaining outlets would move to reduce the number of high-end titles offered:

The head of Waterstone's, Gerry Johnson, said there would be more emphasis on novels, cookery and children's books and less on "academic and humanities" areas, which he said could still be bought online.

Management denies that the new format represents a "dumbing down":

Mr Johnson denied that the chain was being dumbed down, pointing to the current promotion of the relaunched range of Penguin classics.

As if Penguin Classics was high-end! Penguin Classics is a middle-brow selection of no-brainer titles that appeals to readers who don't have the deep interest required to really investigate global offerings, and to find good books on their own. Buying a Penguin Classic is an admission that you have relinquished choice to the editors of the publishing house.

The story goes on to talk about Waterstone's online presence. Here, there are some interesting items. With only 2 per cent of the online market, Waterstones was clearly failing to make an impression. But it "is planning a social networking site". That should be interesting.

I subscribe to Waterstone's e-mail feed. It is relentlessly Anglo-centric. It mentions authors and media personalities who do not resonate at all with a global audience. This is a clear failing. Another failing is that all prices are quoted in pounds sterling, which makes little sense to those living outside the U.K.

In all, I think that Waterstone's needs to improve. Nevertheless, compared to Australian chains such as Angus & Robertson, they're doing a lot. A&R has utterly ignored the Internet as a marketing vehicle.


Anonymous said...

Interesting post. This sort of reminds me of something that's become an epidemic in American libraries. In particular, a library in Washington (DC or state, I can't recall) is culling its shelves of books that haven't been checked out in two years, which means that a lot of classics are getting the axe. The excuse is that they want to make room for more popular titles like "The Da Vinci Code." The director of this library sounded like a CEO, talking about cutting costs and stocking titles that the average (read: pop fiction) reader wants to borrow. I can understand why booksellers would change tactics--they want to make money, after all--but it's a sad state of affairs when libraries are reduced to using the Barnes & Noble business model.

Ron said...

My local library culls books after 2 or 3 years if they haven't been taken out and sells them for 50c.

I've had some humdinger arguments with the librarians over this.

One benefit: I've 'adopted' quite a few books that I would not have been able to get elsewhere these days.