David Prosser: The Waterstone's story may not have a happy ending


Outlook James Daunt is a brave man. Having been appointed managing director of Waterstone's just three months ago – after the book chain'spurchase by the Russian billionaire Alexander Mamut – he is dumping the central plank of the sales pitch it has been making for the past decade.

One can see what he's thinking. Mr Daunt was hired for his track record at Daunt Books, a small independent chain that prides itself on a stylish, upmarket approach to retail – and which has been very successful. The idea that books are just another commodity, to be shifted with aggressive pricing, is the antithesis of what Daunt Books is all about. In axing Waterstone's three-for-two offers, Mr Daunt is steering the bookshops towards the sort of philosophy that has worked for him in the past.

The big question is whether that philosophy is scaleable. It is one thing to set out your stall as an upmarket, intelligent book seller in six stores in affluent parts ofLondon – Belsize Park is as down-at-heel as Daunt Books gets – and quite another to do it across 300 stores nationwide. What works for a specialist retailer may not do so in a mass-market offering.

Like it or not, price is a consideration for book buyers. Every potential Waterstone's customer knows there is a good chance they will be able to find exactly the same products more cheaply on Amazon – or even in Tesco. And that's not even mentioning e-readers. The three-for-two offer may be a blunt marketing instrument, but it at least gives the impression that Waterstone's recognises the pricing threat from such quarters.

Waterstone's may run into another problem too with this move – one that will really upset book lovers such as Mr Daunt. The three-for-two deal is an effective way to shift the work of lesser-known authors, to expand their audiences and to turn them into the best-sellers of tomorrow. Without the support of being thrown into promotions featuring today's star names, those authors may find the going tougher.

For all that, Mr Daunt's gamble has something going for it. The reaction of many Waterstone'scustomers yesterday was that the three-for-two promotion had always annoyed them – often because they couldn't find the right books to make the deal work for them.

Also, the commoditisation of the Waterstone's product has undermined its appeal as an informed retailer of a wide range of books – rather than a bucket shop for best sellers – which is a better image to cultivate as it battles the online retailers and the supermarkets.

And it's also worth pointing out that the existing Waterstone's strategy is not exactly a runaway success. A profit of £9.5m on turnover of £500m, the most recent figures we have for its trading, is not the sort of case history you'll read about in the books on the business studies aisle.

people And here is why...
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
voicesBy the man who has
Arsene Wenger tried to sign Eden Hazard
footballAfter 18 years with Arsenal, here are 18 things he has still never done as the Gunners' manager
Life and Style
The new Windows 10 Start Menu
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson star in The Twilight Saga but will not be starring in the new Facebook mini-movies
tvKristen Stewart and Stephenie Meyer will choose female directrs
Arts and Entertainment
Hilary North's 'How My Life Has Changed', 2001
books(and not a Buzzfeed article in sight)
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
William Hague
people... when he called Hague the county's greatest
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete today
Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey
comedyFirst national survey reveals Britain’s comedic tastes
Arts and Entertainment
Twerking girls: Miley Cyrus's video for 'Wrecking Ball'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Sheeran performs at his Amazon Front Row event on Tuesday 30 September
musicHe spotted PM at private gig
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Real Staffing

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Real Staffing are currently lo...

Trust Accountant - Kent

NEGOTIABLE: Austen Lloyd: TRUST ACCOUNTANT - KENTIf you are a Chartered Accou...

Graduate Recruitment Consultant - 2013/14 Grads - No Exp Needed

£18000 - £20000 per annum + OTE £30000: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 b...

Law Costs

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - Law Costs Draftsperson - NICHE...

Day In a Page

Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?