Waterstone's booksellers are relieved over the chain's acquisition by Alexander Mamut, with one saying: "The staff will be behind [new managing director James Daunt] 100%." Fears remained, however, over possible bookshop closures.
One bookseller said news of the deal was "gratefully received". "There is not total calm yet as everyone is still waiting to see what will happen. While Daunt is a confidence-booster about the future of the stores after a worrying few weeks, we still don't know what will happen when he comes in," he said.
Another bookseller at the chain praised Daunt as having "a brilliant range" of bookshops himself. "He is going to face a difficult future but a very interesting one," he added. "He will probably have to close down some of the stores. However, he has spoken of a local offer so hopefully stores will get a greater degree of autonomy [and] we will see a devolution of some power to staff."
Another bookseller was surprised that former m.d. Dominic Myers would leave the chain as a result of the takeover. "James Daunt is a good move although how he'll work out in a much larger business with many more shops, staff and problems to be fixed remains to be seen," he said. "If Mamut invests in the business there is potentially a brighter future ahead."
Publishers stressed the opportunity for Waterstone's to play to its strengths. Picador publisher Paul Baggaley said Waterstone's had the ability to promote backlist, setting it apart from online stores. "I am thrilled by the news. We have a list of books that needs a strong Waterstone's," he said.
Bloomsbury executive director Richard Charkin added: "We hope the new management will continue to recognise the value of breadth of stock and knowledge of local requirements."
Having welcomed the news, Hachette UK chief executive Tim Hely Hutchinson said: "I tend to make a point of not telling booksellers how to do their job, especially since I was at W H Smith and saw at first-hand how little publishers understood about it."
Independent Alma Books m.d. Alessandro Gallenzi said: "What is needed is a strong message that high street bookselling is not dead. James Daunt is the best person to do this. He has credibility." He added that it was Alma Books' hope that Waterstone's would now stock a greater range of titles. It was felt that Waterstone's had been "a bit understocked".
PFD chief executive Caroline Michel said: "You couldn't have had a smarter move" than appointing Daunt. However, she said Waterstone's needed to do "something similar" to Barnes & Noble in the US with its digital offer. B&N created the Nook reader to sell in stores alongside physical titles. Asked about Daunt's relative lack of digital book experience, Michel said: "He's smart and he will learn. What he needed was leverage and he's got that now."
United Agents director Robert Kirby said: "James Daunt clearly knows how to sell books. The challenge for him is how he can use his successful experience and scale up from half a dozen shops."
Kirby emphasised the importance of staff morale. "What you really want is empowering local managers to get involved in the businesses they run and be the head of a store rather than manager of a collapsing franchise."
A P Watt joint m.d. Caradoc King called Daunt a "visionary and dedicated bookseller who understands the value of drawing people in and encouraging people to buy books even if they're not discounted". He warned that Waterstone's had missed out on digital in a way Barnes & Noble had not and that needed to be tackled.