Southwold Books meets with mixed reactions

Southwold Books meets with mixed reactions

Independent booksellers have voiced mixed reactions to the opening of Southwold Books, the first Waterstones bookshop to open under “independent” branding.

The store opened last Friday (18th July) to some controversy, after anti-chain store campaigners in the seaside town said it would lead to rent increases and drive out smaller retailers.

John Perkins, secretary of the Southwold & Reydon preservation society, told the BBC: “It’s dishonest, because it’s a national chain pretending not to be a national chain, but trying to look like a local shop.”

However, independent booksellers are divided as to the merits of the new format—some have said they are “shocked”, while others reckon it is a “sensible” move.

Lee Mason, owner of nearby Beccles Books, said: “I am always in favour of anybody opening a bookshop. There are so few of us now that anyone opening up a bookshop is a cause for celebration. I do think it is an interesting move not to brand it as a Waterstones. I can see why they have done it—there was a backlash in Southwold recently towards chain stores and I would be concerned if they opened one under the same guise in my town.”

Ron Johns, owner of The Falmouth Bookseller, said he was “shocked” by the development. “How funny that the world has turned around from thinking having corporate identity is a good thing to deciding that operating under the guise of an indie is better. It is absolutely shocking.

“I really feel like that is subterfuge and I certainly wouldn’t want Waterstones to do any more like this. If it wants to develop its brand, it should sort out the shops operating under it first. The whole point of having a chain is to have a national identity and operate under that brand.”

Henry Layte, from The Book Hive in Norwich, said he thought the move was “cynical. Is the bookshop going to operate like an independent or like a Waterstones, having to order books from the hub?” he asked. “Because the most important thing about being independent is operating like one.”

However, Nic Bottomley, owner of Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights in Bath, said he thought Waterstones opening under the Southwold Books moniker was a “sensible idea”. He said: “Obviously Waterstones is in a good position to do this. Southwold hasn’t got a bookshop at the moment and everyone is arguing that high streets need reinvigorating and we need as many bookshops as possible. Waterstones are the only people with the resources to do it, so good on them I say. Bring it on.”

Waterstones said its branding “reflects the quintessentially local character of the bookshop which will be run as, and have the ethos of, an independent bookshop”. Waterstones said this fitted into its wider strategy of each bookshop being “encouraged to develop its own personality to best meet the reading interests of its local community.”

Manager of Southwold Books, Alison Kerridge, said: “We’re incredibly proud to be bringing a bookshop back to the heart of Southwold, and have been delighted by the enthusiasm and goodwill we’ve received already from the local community.”

Waterstones m.d. James Daunt has previously told The Bookseller the 900 sq ft store, stocking 15,000 titles—the smallest in the Waterstones estate—is a trial, and added that the company would roll out more if it was successful.