James Daunt has said the process of selling Waterstones has resumed after Christmas, while expressing a desire to stay on as managing director of the chain retailer after the new owners come in.
The bookselling chief has also dismissed reports the retailer will be sold for as much as £300m, telling The Bookseller it is more likely to be around the £200m mark.
He was speaking after a Daily Mail report cited city analysts as saying a sale to private equity investors was imminent, with the chain likely to sell for between £200m and £300m. The process reportedly resumed last week following the end of the Russian Orthodox Church’s Christmas celebrations, although Daunt said he spoke to the newspaper in December.
He told The Bookseller: “A sale is underway at the moment. It seems a very good time for Mamut because we are a profitable business, and I thought it would be sensible to wait until after Christmas because Christmas is very important.” However, he would not be drawn on who the new owners might be.
Daunt said that given the retailer’s annual gross earnings of £40m, the sale price will be substantially lower than the top end of £300m suggested.
He said: “It’s a very wide bracket. It’s not worth £300m that’s for sure, I would have thought the bottom end.”
He told The Bookseller that he would like to continue his seven-year stint as m.d. of the chain. “Obviously, I am here as long as Mamut wants me and as long as the new owner wants me,” he said.
Daunt added that he was “enjoying the fact” that the controversial Trump exposé Fire and Fury was currently selling so well at the chain, revealing that it was "dwarfing everything else by miles”. Publisher Little, Brown revealed the reaction to the book by Michael Wolff had been "extraordinary" last week.
He said: “It will be interesting to see how long that lasts. I believe word of mouth will keep it going, it is a rollicking book. I am hopeful that sales will carry on. 2017 was a year with relatively few books like that. Normally we would get two, three or four a year and it is very lucky to get such a big one in January.”
Rumblings about the retailer’s future first began in October when the London Evening Standard revealed that Waterstones’ ownership might be affected by the takeover of of Otkritie by the country’s central bank, Russian Central Bank. The report suggested its new owners were asking oligarch shareholders to hand over assets to help it recuperate losses of between $3.3bn and $6.5bn.
Daunt later dismissed any suggestion that a Russian bank collapse will impact on the future ownership of the chain, but suggested that Mamut, would be “sensible” to sell the retailer now it is making a profit.
Daunt told the Daily Mail that the chain had suffered over the Kindle in 2011. He said “We made one major mistake, which was that we hadn’t seen Kindle coming."