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Excitement and relief over Waterstone's future
20.05.11 | Benedicte Page and Charlotte Williams
Publishers, writers, agents and trade bodies have responded with relief to today’s news of the acquisition of Waterstone’s by Alexander Mamut’s A&NN Group, welcoming the surprise arrival of James Daunt as the retail chain’s new m.d. though also expressing regret at the departure of Dominic Myers.
Tim Godfray, chief executive of the Bookseller Association, called Daunt “a book man who has integrity, passion, vision, and an enviable track record”. He said: “He has shown he has the right formula to bring people into his shops in an extremely competitive market . . . Alexander Mamut not only has the resources to support Waterstone’s future development; he also has demonstrated his passion for bookshops. We hope that this proposed sale will ensure that Waterstone’s will continue to play a pivotal role in UK high street and online bookselling. The whole book trade needs a strong Waterstone’s.”
Philip Gwyn Jones, publisher at Portobello and Granta Books, said he was "excited and delighted" by the news, calling it “the best possible outcome” for the chain. “People are saying 'How can James Daunt make the leap from running six shops in posh areas to running the Waterstone's chain?’ but he has gumption and hard-nosed business instincts,” he said. “He has been a tremendous supporter of individual booksellers, paying them more and empowering them to back what they like—handselling in the best possible way.” Gwyn Jones added: “The best thing about this is that there will be a Waterstone's, a books-only retailer on the high street—which was by no means certain.”
Writer Tom Holland, president of the Society of Authors, said the buy was "fabulous" news for authors. "Waterstone's is absolutely vital for authors and the survival of literary culture in this country,” he said. “If the book vanishes from the high street into cyberspace, if it is exclusively the preserve of independent bookshops which cannot get space in shopping malls or airports, that is very threatening for the future of publishing in this country. The ability to go into shops and browse fosters the habit of reading and makes a statement about the centrality of publishing and books to the culture and the retail economy of this country.”
Holland added: “There is something deeply sensory about Daunt's bookshops. They are the literary equivalent of walking into a delicious bakery. That's something he can bring to Waterstone's which can't be replicated online."
James Heneage, who sold his Ottakars chain to Waterstone's in 2006, said: "This is extremely good news for Waterstone's, and I could not be more delighted that the large number of people employed in Waterstone's who were once at Ottakar's look to have a more secure future than they did a month ago."
Random House chair and c.e.o. Gail Rebuck said the announcement was good news for the publishing industry and booklovers alike. “Waterstone’s has a crucially important role as the quality range bookseller on the high street and the message that the new owners are committed to ensuring it has a dynamic future, focussed on the core business of books and bookselling couldn’t be more welcome,” she said.
Tim Hely Hutchinson, chief executive of Hachette UK, also welcomed the news, saying: “We enjoy a successful joint venture with Alexander Mamut [the Russian publishing group Atticus] and we have the highest regard for James Daunt.”
Faber m.d. Stephen Page said: “James is a superb bookseller and it's very good news. He has done such singularly successful work and has such a grasp of a range of disciplines, such talent and passion. He's a very, very good businessman and a talented human being.” Page added: “We will work very hard to support their offering to the consumer, for whom Waterstones is really, really important. We need that infrastructure on the high street and it’s really important to readers."
Jonny Geller of Curtis Brown said authors would be very relieved at the “tremendous” news. “Thank goodness there was not a long drawn-out process as there was with Borders which would have been devastating,” he said. “The staff there will be revitalised and re-energised.” But he added Waterstone's would have to change. “It's going to have to embrace the online selling market but it has to do it in its own way, to show an alternative to Amazon,” he said. As for the implications of having the chain owned by Russian oligarch Alexander Mamut, Geller commented: “We might get some Russian translated authors in the UK market finally, so that's a good thing."
But there was regret at the departure of Dominic Myers from the Waterstone’s chain. Godfray said: “Dominic Myers has been a fantastic supporter of the BA. We will miss him and wish him every success at his new role within HMV.” Page added: “I am sad to see Dominic Myers go—he is a talented leader.”