A change is gonna come

As Waterstone's staff we are looking for change. From the redundancies and cuts to hours when the Hub was implemented, to store closures and lack of any recent pay increases, there needs to be positive news coming from somewhere.

Booksellers now spend more time worrying about mystery shop scores, conversion figures, whether we can hit our customer order target of 10% or if the books will actually ever arrive via the Hub than actually selling anything.

Couple that with the management frequently reacting to news with panic and plastering the front of store with hot pink posters at days' notice or spending £20k on a temporary new uniform for all staff to wear.

Plus we promise our customers we can order 'any' book for them but this remains hard to achieve when we are on stop with two publishers.

Yet the news of an impending sale does seem to have lifted morale. Finally something positive might be done after years of neglect. Simon Fox admitting that he has neglected Waterstone's and setting us free in a life raft while the good ship HMV sinks is certainly the first step in a recovery. 

With only two potential buyers it is difficult to pick and choose between them. Dominic Myers is certainly an improvement over Gerry Johnson's regime and he has changed the company considerably, culling the dead wood and trying to overcome the difficulties and decisions forced upon him by Johnson.

Overall Myers is a good choice to continue to run the company with the potential management buyout, but the style in which he and those at head office preside over the rest of the company would need to change. Criticism, constructive or otherwise, is immediately shot down and ignored. His 'local' idea had an admirable death when management realised that public just didn't care. Price, availability and range are the main issues and while problems with the Hub were eased by adding customer ordering through Bertrams, price was not. Charging over the r.r.p. does not bring customers in through the door. 

Meanwhile, Tim Waterstone pledges to return us to our stock-holding routes, a vast difference to the endless returns and bare shelves we have now. With Waterstone and Alexander Mamut, we have the founder returning with a wealthy businessman in tow.

I'm sure many of us wouldn't mind becoming a Russian oligarch's plaything, maybe turning us into the Chelsea FC of the bookselling world, but questions remain. What of their failed Russian bookselling business? Is Waterstone still in touch with today's bookselling world in comparison to Myers?

Much would depend on the team Waterstone and Mamut build around them and a wise man would already be on the phone to Tim Watson. 

In the end, my heart says Mamut with his millions but my head says Myers if he can gather together enough money and the right people. An ideal world would be Waterstone, Mamut and Myers working together. Any bidder would need to invest heavily in staff, IT, Waterstones.com and the all important stock levels but regardless of who takes over, all of us on the shop floor know that there are more closures looming.

But all booksellers can hope for is that our new owners will eventually invest and give us the tools to do what they actually genuinely love doing—selling books.