Virgin move into books opens a new chapter

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The Independent Online
The Virgin Megastore chain is about to launch a full-scale attack on the UK book market with a range of titles aimed at its "youth" audience. Virgin hopes to achieve book sales of pounds 25m-pounds 30m by 1999 which would place it among Britain's top 10 booksellers with a similar market share to the Books Etc chain.

The move into books is part of a strategy to improve sales at the Virgin- Our Price chain and capitalise more on the links between the various parts of the Virgin empire. It is testing a "Virtual Megastore" format that will enable shoppers to enter even the smallest branch of Our Price and order from the full range of the Virgin Megastore in London's Oxford Street.

It also hopes to introduce systems that will enable shoppers at Virgin and Our Price stores to book cinema tickets at its cinema chain acquired last year.

Virgin has been running a bookselling trial in four of its stores since last December. It plans to introduce books to 20 stores by Christmas and all 32 of the largest megastores by next May. The range will include books by "cult" authors such as Irvine Welsh, Harper Lee, Iain Banks and JD Salinger. Other sections will include music and film titles as well as science fiction, sport, gay and lesbian and "new age" books on subjects such as transcendental meditation.

Simon Burke, managing director of Virgin-Our Price, said books represented a good opportunity: "We've tested a book range in stores like Nottingham, Bromley and Oxford and it's gone very well. We will try to stock mostly modern titles that are slightly controversial."

If Virgin succeeds in achieving book sales of pounds 30m, that would give it a 2 per cent share of Britain's pounds 1.6bn book market. According to retail consultants Verdict Research, WH Smith has the largest share with 25 per cent through its core chain and the Waterstone's business. Dillons is the second-largest with 9 per cent.

Verdict's Clive Vaughan says: "It seems like a good idea. There are some good obvious synergies and the titles they are stocking will appeal to its fairly young audience."

Virgin plans to open 80 new megastores over the next three years.