Daunt warns 'Today' programme of Christmas threat to indies

Daunt warns 'Today' programme of Christmas threat to indies

Waterstones m.d. James Daunt has reiterated his claims bookshops should be considered essential retailers and warned some indies will go out of business if they don't get vital Christmas trade.

Daunt was interviewed on BBC Radio 4's “Today” programme earlier today (Wednesday 11th November) following an open letter from the Booksellers Association to ministers yesterday arguing bookshops should be allowed to open during lockdown.

Asked why bookshops were essential, he said: “I think we support people as they work through their lockdowns. The government knows and recognises that retail as a whole is a very safe environment which is why so much of it is open and, during the first lockdown they opened garden centres for example to help people get through the first lockdown. I think bookshops are a clear candidate to be kept open now and, indeed, in European countries, that is what happens.”

Daunt pointed to W H Smith as a chain bookseller that had been treated as an exception and remained open whilst independent bookshops and his own stores were all shut.

When it was put to him that a line had to be drawn somewhere, Daunt replied: “An arbitrary line can be drawn and it can be catastrophically unfair on some people. The question is has the line been remotely sensibly drawn and I think, in this case, not. If you've got an all-singing all-dancing website then you're all right. If you don't, which of course small independents do not, then you're in big trouble. Books are available of course but they're not easily available and if you are going to keep some retailers open, bookshops would be an entirely sensible, humane and reasonable one to do so.”

Daunt said the government should be stressing that retail is a safe environment with social distancing measures in place, referring to studies showing this was the case. He claimed that concentrating retail in only some areas actually made it less safe.

Asked for evidence of more indies going out of business this year, he warned: “I have absolutely no doubt that if small bookshops do not get their Christmas then many of them will go out of business. Bookshops, generally speaking, tread water or even lose money for 11 months of the year and then they make their money at the end of the year. We are at a key moment for booksellers, we have these huge publications – Obama's autobiography, the Booker Prize and then Christmas itself coming up - and if that is denied to independent booksellers a very large number of them unfortunately will close their doors.”