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Mamut: Waterstone’s ‘important for UK’
08.08.11 | Graeme Neill
Waterstone’s new owner Alexander Mamut has described the chain as “the last significant player in the UK” and claimed the bookseller’s continued existence was “important for UK society”.
The publicity-shy billionaire was interviewed for a piece on Waterstone’s intranet, which was obtained by The Bookseller. Mamut has only issued two short press statements since he was first linked to buying Waterstone’s in January. However, the article is low on specifics in terms of his own plans for the business.
Mamut said there was “a massive amount of work to be done” following his acquisition of the chain. He said: “If we can make a turnaround, improve everything, have good books properly displayed, a good atmosphere, good recommendations [with] marketing and investment of course, then I think we can compete with a company named Amazon.com. I can’t imagine that life can be replaced with a computer universe. I can’t accept it.”
Throughout the interview, Mamut emphasised the “emotional” attachment he had to bricks-and-mortar bookselling. He said that side of the industry has “absolutely different targets” to the digital companies that have brought technological innovations such as e-books in recent years.
He said: “We want copyright on authors to be kept carefully, we want authors to be paid [an] advance and royalties, and we want book stores full of people and we want reading—it may be old-fashioned, but nobody has proved that the old way of reading, publishing and selling books is something inefficient.”
Mamut said physical book stores are critical in breeding a new generation of “passionate, active, cultural, well-educated people”. He said:”I think that writing texts, publishing texts, selling texts in a physical book store is one of the important tools for breeding this new generation.
“So, for me, buying Waterstone’s is important. It’s important for the UK, which is a country I love, which has given me a lot . . . Waterstone’s is the last significant player in the UK, and its existence is important for UK society.”
He said Waterstone’s managing director James Daunt’s love of bookshops appealed to him when he was looking for someone to run the business. He said: “I like the way he is doing business, there is a lot of respect for customers, which I appreciate. I got that feeling immediately. He tries to treat them in a very comfortable, very delicate, very informative way—and they repay him by browsing in his stores and buying books.”