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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + competitive: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250...

Guru Careers: Financial Controller

£45 - £55k DOE: Guru Careers: A Financial Controller is required to join a suc...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant / Telemarketer - OTE £20,000

£12500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Scotland's leading life insuran...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Adviser - OTE £24,500

£22500 - £24500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Inbound and outbound calls with...

Day In a Page

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

Margaret Attwood on climate change

The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works
Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation' over plans to overhaul reverse-chronological timeline

Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation'

Facebook exasperates its users by deciding which posts they can and can’t see. So why has Twitter announced plans to do the same?
Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag - but what else could the fashion house call it?

Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag

The star was shocked by a Peta investigation into the exotic skins trade
10 best waterproof mascaras

Whatever the weather: 10 best waterproof mascaras

We found lash-enhancing beauties that won’t budge no matter what you throw at them
Diego Costa biography: Chelsea striker's route to the top - from those who shared his journey

Diego Costa: I go to war. You come with me...

Chelsea's rampaging striker had to fight his way from a poor city in Brazil to life at the top of the Premier League. A new book speaks to those who shared his journey
Ashes 2015: England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

The biggest problem facing them in Birmingham was the recovery of the zeitgeist that drained so quickly under the weight of Australian runs at Lord's, says Kevin Garside
Women's Open 2015: Charley Hull - 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

Charley Hull: 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

British teen keeps her feet on ground ahead of Women's Open
Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'