Waterstone's m.d. James Daunt has called Amazon a "ruthless, money-making devil", and said he has a "responsibility" to ensure bookshops remain on the high street.
In a profile interview in the Independent, Daunt backed physical bookshops as a better environment for the consumer than online stores, and said of Amazon: "They never struck me as being a sort of business in the consumer's interest. They're a ruthless, money-making devil." He added: "The computer screen is a terrible environment in which to select books. All that 'If you read this, you'll like that'—it's a dismal way to recommend books. A physical bookshop in which you browse, see, hold, touch and feel books is the environment you want."
Daunt also said he "wouldn't bet against publishers" over the next five years, saying: "The editorial process and the marketing—someone has to do it. I don't think agents are the best people to do it. Authors certainly aren't—they need editing." He said that either publishers, agents and authors will all survive together over the next five years, or "they'll all disappear, swept away, replaced by one big fat Amazon, getting his way. And if the bookshops go, they will never come back. So I have a responsibility."
Daunt reiterated the chain is "inventing" its own e-reader, and said: "You'll walk into a Waterstone's and there'll be a bit of the shop where you can look at e-readers, play with them. We're inventing one of our own—perhaps we'll call it the Windle—and we're working on the Barnes & Noble approach. They've embedded their own e-book [reader], called the Nook, within their bookshops and have succeeded in taking market share from the Kindle."
He also said: "You have to let the booksellers decide how to curate their own stock . . . My vision is of a local bookshop completely at ease within its local community. Looking after its local authors, who are often their best customers, a very good reason to be nice to them. Where Waterstone's used to send booksellers a photo and say, 'Make sure you have all these books on display,' we leave it to the individual. I'll say, 'Here's a crime fiction table—what's the best crime fiction you want to have there?'
"If we're doing our job properly, we should be the bookshop of choice for the serious reader. But where we compete with W H Smith and supermarkets is for people who don't read much, or are buying for others—it's hard enough to sell them just one book."